Libertopia, with asterisks

by John Quiggin on August 14, 2010

As I was reminded in comments last time, snarking about libertarians is not a very productive substitute for writing well-argued posts about The Way Forward for Social Democracy, or writing my nearly-due examiners report for that PhD thesis, or revising my article on climate change on discounting, or getting the yard under control. But if I was capable of responding to that kind of reasoning, I wouldn’t be a blogger would I. So, in lieu of something useful, here’s a thought that occurred to me.

Among the more plausible candidates for an Actually Existing Libertopia, the US in C19 (with asterisks) is pretty prominent. Also, on the basis of fairly thin historical evidence, the Iceland of the sagas. It seems to me that these examples have one crucial point in common that hasn’t received much attention

Looking at the US case, it seems fair to say that, if you ignore the asterisks (women, blacks, native Americans and the emerging industrial working class), the 19th century setup was a fair approximation to the libertarian ideal. I’m going to ignore the industrial part of the economy for the moment, and, for the sake of argument, treat slavery and Jim Crow as aberrations peculiar to the South. Finally, and again for the sake of argument, I’ll concede the possibility that the legal rights of women and men could have been equalized (at least in formal terms) without upsetting the C19 applecart.

That leaves on remaining asterisk – native Americans – and it seems to me that this is the one that can’t be avoided. In a largely agricultural society, the historical norm has been the emergence of an aristocracy based on the ownership of land, and ruling over a tenant peasantry or landless laborers. The only case that doesn’t happen is where there is an appealing exit option for the peasants, such as migration to the city.

But another exit option exists wherever there is a frontier (that is, a border with a less militarily advanced society) as in C19 US. With a frontier, agricultural land is freely available to anyone willing and able to kill, drive away or enslave the current occupiers. That obviously makes life difficult for any aspiring aristocrats[1]. The Icelanders were in a similar position. If any local jarl got too big for his boots, it was a simple matter to hop into a longship and go off to loot some abbeys.

It is, as my Marxist friends used to say, no coincidence that the end of the era of (white male agricultural) US libertarianism came to an end with the “closing” of the frontier. I’d guess, though I have no real evidence that the same was true in Iceland once the Viking option was no longer available.

The standard Lockean case for (propertarian) libertarianism rests on the (universally false) assumption that an appropriation of land leaves “enough and as good” for anyone else. As long as land can be stolen from people who are outside the pale in one way or another, Lockeans (and a fortiori Jeffersonians) can convince themselves that they are devotees of liberty rather than of the forcible imposition of property rights in land (and, for Jeffersonians, other people). Once there’s no more land left to steal, it becomes obvious that propertarianism is fundamentally dependent on coercion, just like (for example) socialism or any other form of government.

fn1. The only place a real agricultural aristocracy emerged was in the South with slavery and then, in a more attenuated form, with sharecropping, dependent ultimately on Jim Crow.

{ 326 comments }

1

liberal 08.15.10 at 3:59 am

Of course. The key issue that shows that most supporters of modern-day (right-wing) libertarianism in fact despise liberty—are, in fact, crypto-feudalists—is shown by their take on the land question. To wit, most of them think that it’s all fine and dandy if landowners collect rent even though the land was already there anyway.

I don’t know why you allude to Marx, though—Marx completely screwed up with his “workers vs the capitalists”. The right person to reference is of course Henry George.

An interesting question to me is why so few opponents of right-wing libertarianism are willing to grant legitimacy to the Georgist line of attack. Brains addled by Marx, I’d say.

2

lemuel pitkin 08.15.10 at 4:06 am

Well, sure. This argument goes back at least 100 years, to Werner Sombart’s Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?

3

lemuel pitkin 08.15.10 at 4:25 am

Brains addled by Marx

Haters gonna hate. :-)

It’s funny, tho, isn’t it, how Marxists just happened to get mentioned in a post about how relations to the means of production shape a society’s political structure. I know John says this connection “hasn’t received much attention,” but it does make you wonder if the old guy might have written about it somewhere.

4

mcd 08.15.10 at 4:47 am

Why not Henry George? Well, where the action is in capitalism went from land to ownership of industrial equipment to ownership of investment capital. Foreseen early on by Marxists. Even by Marx himself, partially, with his discussion of joint- stock companies.

5

Dan in Euroland 08.15.10 at 5:04 am

The best approximation of libertopia is the internet. And its pretty damn good. Buy what you want, speak to whom you want, etc.

6

andrew 08.15.10 at 6:17 am

To get to a 19th century US libertopia, you also have to ignore, along with the asterisks already mentioned, things like state governments, something this post does quite nicely. State run or chartered monopolies, government subsidies, regulation of private behavior and morality, even, for a while, official established religion – that kind of stuff was around for substantial parts of the 19th century. But the federal government wasn’t the government doing it, for the most part.

7

Chris Bertram 08.15.10 at 6:45 am

John, the Lockean proviso isn’t an assumption but a condition upon legitimate appropriation. The assumption is that the condition could be met in the 17th-19th-century North America.

Your claim is that this is false because someone else already owned the land, so there wasn’t enough and as good.

I think this needs a bit of tweaking. First, because it is _true_ that nobody owned the land _on a Lockean conception of ownership_ . To this you might say “well so much the worse for a Lockean conception of ownership” – and you’d be right. Avery Kolers’s idea of ethno-cultural geographies is relevant here: the Lockean conception projects as the the default and natural normative relationship to the land something that’s culturally specific and which many indigenous peoples don’t share. Locke’s insistence on labour-mixing in the acquisition process is key here because it marks a break with earlier writers who employed the looser criterion of first occupancy (a criterion that the native inhabitants obviously met).

But, second, that assumes that white would-be settlers were ideological Lockeans who denied the prior ownership claims of the native inhabitants. That looks to be false as a historical claim since in North America white settlers (and the US government) took the trouble to disposess by fraudulent purchase or treaty – which presupposes recognition of the prior claims of the indigenous peoples. What you say actually fits Australia better, because there the land was declared _terra nullius_ .

8

Andy 08.15.10 at 7:21 am

John, what do you (and others) think about seasteading? It seems like a peaceful way to obtain new land. The topic is fascinating to me; even though many of the proponents are libertarians, there is no reason progressives of good will could not take up the mantle to form a diverse social democracy. I don’t know about you but I weary of battling the right and the pseudo left CONSTANTLY. A nonviolent amicable divorce seems like a good option. We can be Atlantic Americans :)

9

Metatone 08.15.10 at 8:57 am

I didn’t have time to read all the Zombie Economics threads, but surely this is at the heart of many of the Zombie ideas (and some others that are a bit broken too) in Economics?

Substitution sooner or later relies at least on their being fresh land to move to… and indeed, the notion that “there’s no such thing as involuntary unemployment” surely derives from a world where an unemployed person could make their way to the wild frontier and build a new life exploiting the natural resources there…

10

Metatone 08.15.10 at 8:58 am

ack… there being…

11

JK 08.15.10 at 9:08 am

Marx did talk about this – the concluding chapter of Capital volume 1 is dedicated to it (he thought it was pretty important). It’s too long to excerpt neatly in a comment, but here he is on E G Wakefield:

‘Wakefield discovered that in the Colonies, property in money, means of subsistence, machines, and other means of production, does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the correlative — the wage-worker, the other man who is compelled to sell himself of his own free will. He discovered that capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things. [4 Marx's fn: “A negro is a negro. In certain circumstances he becomes a slave. A mule is a machine for spinning cotton. Only under certain circumstances does it become capital. Outside these circumstances, it is no more capital than gold is intrinsically money, or sugar is the price of sugar.... Capital is a social relation of production. It is a historical relation of production.” (Karl Marx, “Lohnarbeit und Kapital,” N. Rh. Z., No.266, April 7, 1849.)] Mr. Peel, he moans, took with him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means of subsistence and of production to the amount of £50,000. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 300 persons of the working class, men, women, and children. Once arrived at his destination, “Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river.” [5] Unhappy Mr. Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River! ‘

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch33.htm

Marx’s argument is that when American workers can easily take new land it is hard to get capital accumulation. He sees the turning point in the US as the civil war which ‘brought in its train a colossal national debt, and, with it, pressure of taxes, the rise of the vilest financial aristocracy, the squandering of a huge part of the public land on speculative companies for the exploitation of railways, mines, &c., in brief, the most rapid centralization of capital.’

12

R.Mutt 08.15.10 at 9:10 am

Looking at the US case, it seems fair to say that, if you ignore the asterisks (women, blacks, native Americans and the emerging industrial working class), the 19th century setup was a fair approximation to the libertarian ideal.

Import tariffs of
40-50% are a libertarian ideal?

13

bad Jim 08.15.10 at 9:10 am

What strikes me about at least Mark Twain’s accounts of mid 19c America is its embrace of modernity, forty-niners gambling with stock certificates. They knew the future was already here, and in that region it was; in short order parts of the Sierra were brutally terraformed by hydrological mining. Fans of Deadwood will recall how suddenly everything changed when Hearst arrived upon the scene, and in reality he arrived nearly immediately.

It’s hardly less pointless to wax sentimental over the dustbowl sodbusters who went broke than to lament their penniless predecessors whom we herded into reservations. If you’re looking for self-reliance, now that we’ve gotten rid of our local hunters and gatherers, how can we not look south of the border? Libertarians ought to celebrate the narcotraficantes for their flamboyant disregard of laws and norms and borders.

14

sg 08.15.10 at 9:58 am

in my experience, the response of real actual libertarians to this point about the US or Australia is always to use the example Chris gave, that “they didn’t have a concept of ownership of land” so it’s okay. There is no allowance for the possibility of a non-written law, no allowance for consideration of use as ownership, of course no allowance for the possibility that the land was owned communally, and never ever any consideration that since it was wrong at the time by the standards of the libertarians, maybe compensation is due.

The libertarian approach to indigenous dispossession – literally, that it couldn’t have happened in any meaningful sense tells you everything you need to know about how much they value “property rights” and what the property rights they do value are all about – granting control of as many people as possible to the rich.

15

Chris Bertram 08.15.10 at 10:28 am

sg writes:

_in my experience, the response of real actual libertarians to this point about the US or Australia is always to use the example Chris gave, that “they didn’t have a concept of ownership of land” so it’s okay._

Indeed. On which cf Kant’s remarks (Metaphysics of Morals 6.266)

bq. Lastly, it can still be asked whether, when neither nature nor chance but just our own will brings us into the neighborhood of a people that holds out no prospect of a civil union with it, we should not be authorized to found colonies, by force if need be, in order to establish a civil union with them and bring these human beings (savages) into a rightful condition (as with the American Indians, the Hottentots and the inhabitants of New Holland); or (which is not much better), to found colonies by fraudulent purchase of their land, and so become owners of their land, making use of our superiority without regard for their first possession. Should we not be authorized to do this, especially since nature itself (which abhors a vacuum) seems to demand it, and great expanses of land in other parts of the world, which are now splendidly populated, would have otherwise remained uninhabited by civilized people or, indeed, would have to remain forever uninhabited, so that the end of creation would have been frustrated? But it is easy to see through this veil of injustice (Jesuitism), which would sanction any means to good ends. Such a way of acquiring land is therefore to be repudiated.

16

JulesLt 08.15.10 at 10:53 am

#5 – not sure if those attributes are exclusive to Libertopia – free internal markets and freedom of association don’t require everything else in the Libertarian program – they can co-exist with tax-funded public services.

An interesting hypothetical is what happens in Libertopia, a few generations in, when the population no longer automatically share the values of the founding fathers, they just happen to be born there. They look at their society, with its massive inequality based on wealth accrued by generations of privilege and ownership of key resources (i.e. land, capital, toll roads).

They start to associate with other people who express ideas about a fairer, more equal society – taxing the wealthy and privileged to reduce their power, and use the income to lift the poor out of the health and education trap, etc.

At what point does Libertopia have to defend itself against this existential threat, and how?

It’s not that different from the problems faced by any society offering ‘freedom of speech’ – but Libertopia would have a special problem because it’s starting point is so extreme.

Going back to the Internet – it’s interesting to see how there’s been a definite effort to claim the Internet as a libertarian space – i.e. it’s interesting to see people on forums talking about, say, The Internet vs Publishers, ascribe The Internet’s position to be that of the EFF (essentially a small lobbying organisation) rather than that of, say, Tim Berners-Lee.

(The reality of course is that it’s not a libertarian space – it’s a corporate illusion of a libertarian space – very few people have a direct connection to the Internet proper, serve their own web pages or run their own email server. Most content is digital sharecropping ).

17

Clay Shirky 08.15.10 at 11:32 am

I know the point of the asterisking is really just to say “Notwithstanding all the other problems with Libertopia, here’s the problem *I* want to talk about now”, I want to de-asterisk the point about women.

As noted on CT in April, Bryan Caplan famously gave the game away by noting that “Women are more than half the population. If they’re freer today than they were in the Gilded Age, we can truly say that most people in America are freer today than they were before the rise of the welfare state”, and then, having committed himself to this fairly intuitive notion, engaged in increasingly tortured reasons why people with few legal rights but enormous social constraints were, _mirabile dictu_, nevertheless freer in C19 than today.

I bring this up here not just because any asterisk that eliminates more than half the relevant cases is an asterisk too far, but because the logic of appropriating the women’s value, and especially their care work (to use Folbre’s term) is similar to the logic of appropriating the Native American’s land.

Put another way, I don’t think that Manifest Destiny was an illustrative special case, I think it is an example of the way Libertopia is supposed to work, which is to say that positive externalities from other people to me are the way God and Galt intended things to be; positive externalities from me to others are proof that the system is working; negative externalities from me to other people are merely figments of whining losers; and negative externalities from others to me are not just evil, but trivially separable and fixable, if we only lived in Libertopia.

I want to convince you to de-concede “the possibility that the legal rights of women and men could have been equalized (at least in formal terms) without upsetting the C19 applecart”, because the C19 applecart (in its Libertopian flavor) had a deeper logic in its regard of benefit than treating Native Americans as one case and women as another, different case suggests. Put another way, running out of land to appropriate was the ending of one kind of frontier, but running out of women who couldn’t own property or vote was the ending of another kind, and your analysis could be broadened to cover that general logic.

18

bjk 08.15.10 at 11:53 am

Isn’t Hong Kong under British rule the shining example of libertopia?

19

Dan 08.15.10 at 11:59 am

The libertarian approach to indigenous dispossession – literally, that it couldn’t have happened in any meaningful sense

Personally, in common with most libertarians I’ve ever met, I think that the case for saying that the settlement of the US constituted an injustice is overwhelming. In fact it seems to me that only libertarianism (or, at least, property-based theories of justice) can adequately account for our intuitions that an injustice was done. I mean, for most people, it’s pretty obvious that one of the main problems with the way in which the native Americans were treated is that people stole their land. But if you’re the kind of sophisticated leftist that hangs out on Crooked Timber, you probably subscribe to a theory of justice that (among other things) denies the existence of any non-conventional property rights. But this makes it somewhat more difficult to diagnose the reason why an injustice took place. Maybe it is possible to come up with, say, a Rawlsian explanation. When I hear about the treatment of the native Americans by the settlers, though, my immediate problem with their actions is not that it engendered an environment in which social and economic inequalities were not being arranged to the benefit of the least advantaged; rather, my problem is that a bunch of people were violently dispossessed of their land.

At any rate, the genuinely interesting question is: given that the native Americans were treated unjustly, what follows? And it’s a really, really difficult question. One answer that I don’t find particularly convincing is that it means we should have eternal socialism as a punishment for our sins.

20

John Quiggin 08.15.10 at 12:08 pm

Chris, I broadly agree with your tweaks although with some qualifications I’ll come to if I get some time.

But my main point was not to claim that C19 Americans falsely regarded themselves as engaged in Lockean initial appropriation. Rather, I’m imputing this mistake to contemporary propertarians who treat the C19 US as an approximation to libertopia.

Clay, you’ve convinced me, at least as regards the actual logic of the C19 US, and the typical mode of thinking of contemporary propertarianism.

21

Brett Bellmore 08.15.10 at 12:45 pm

I’d agree that the existence of a frontier was critical. I’d simply point out that the key aspect of the frontier is exploitable resources outside the (current) reach of the government, but not of a motivated citizenry, NOT the existence of a native population to be subjugated. The frontier would have been as useful, or more so, if there had been no Indians to displace.

In fact, there’s a line of thought among libertarians that the creation of a ‘libertopia’ will become feasible only when space is opened up to colonization, creating a frontier again.

22

david 08.15.10 at 1:17 pm

“In fact it seems to me that only libertarianism (or, at least, property-based theories of justice) can adequately account for our intuitions that an injustice was done.”

“But if you’re the kind of sophisticated leftist that hangs out on Crooked Timber, you probably subscribe to a theory of justice that (among other things) denies the existence of any non-conventional property rights. But this makes it somewhat more difficult to diagnose the reason why an injustice took place.”

Huh — my mother taught me that those small pox blankets were just plain wrong.

Property based theory of justice, goodness gracious.

23

Chris Bertram 08.15.10 at 1:17 pm

Dan, the Oxlib guy wrote:

_I mean, for most people, it’s pretty obvious that one of the main problems with the way in which the native Americans were treated is that people stole their land. But if you’re the kind of sophisticated leftist that hangs out on Crooked Timber, you probably subscribe to a theory of justice that (among other things) denies the existence of any non-conventional property rights. But this makes it somewhat more difficult to diagnose the reason why an injustice took place._

There are a lot of issues to unpack there (and see the quote from Kant, whom I guess you would class as a conventionalist, above). But I guess many “conventionalists” would want to say something like this: that whilst the ownership relation that individuals have to land (and other objects) is (at least in part) constituted by the state, the relationship that a people (and their state) have to a territory is different in kind (and includes the right to establish property relations and systems of various kinds). Indigenous peoples enjoy (morally speaking) that jurisdictional right which they exercise in ways that often actually deny individual members anything like Lockean property rights. To dispossess a people of that jurisdictional right is an injustice, and claiming that it is an injustice does not presuppose that any person owned anything in a Lockean sense.

I’d want to quibble with that picture in various ways, but you’re quite wrong to think that your opponents can’t explain the injustice.

24

Irrelephant 08.15.10 at 1:22 pm

I guess we are going to ignore the slavery and clan socialism issue in medieval Iceland and pretend it was a close approx to libertopia.

Same with the West. I’m sorry, but could you find a bigger collection of Welfare Queens? andrew @6 mentions it. That’s a huge asterisk. Subsidized land, subsidized elimination/containment of pesky native types, subsidized transport/logistics, eventually, even subsidized water/electricity/gas and oil. The Railroad Acts? Those weren’t completely communist as hell?

25

Matt 08.15.10 at 1:57 pm

The philosophical “foundation” for taking the land of natives goes back a bit further than Locke to Grotius, who was probably more widely influential on the early explorers, in the U.S. and elsewhere. He argued not only that they land wasn’t owned properly by pastoral or “nomadic” people, but that if they would not agree to allow agricultural people to use the land, they were actively harming the agricultural people and had therefore committed an act of war that justified conquest. It’s a bit more subtle than that, but not much. Kant had many good reasons for not liking Grotius, this being one of them.

26

weserei 08.15.10 at 1:57 pm

@4: It’s true that urbanization changed the American economy (in fact, it’s almost tautological to say so), but that doesn’t mean that economic growth ceased to be dependent on land inputs. Urban land is worth far more per square foot, and, in fact, the vast majority of total land value in the US is located in metropolitan areas. You could object that it’s not the urban landlords who produced the economic growth of the industrial revolution, but it’s no less the case that the rural landowners, qua landowners, were not the ones responsible for production in the pre-industrial economy.

27

engels 08.15.10 at 2:17 pm

‘The frontier would have been as useful, or more so, if there had been no Indians to displace.’

And fortunately for the usefulness of the frontier there soon weren’t.

28

Gene O'Grady 08.15.10 at 2:21 pm

Perhaps it should be pointed out that in the part of the US I come from the “Americans” faced not only an indigenous population but a long standing European based system of government and law. And most of the CT readers may not be aware that the Spanish system in California and several other states gave (and still gives) women far more property rights than Anglo-Saxon law.

At any rate my sense from local history knowledge of the Midwest and West is that the situation on the ground was far less libertarian than your high level analysis indicates (interestingly enough the US seems to have been more tolerant of homosexuals before the 1930’s – 50’s). What I know of California indicates that it was the arrival of mainstream Protestantism that cut back on the existing openness and tolerance, although hardly in a libertarian, more a corporate capitalist (hi, Leland) direction.

29

Roger Albin 08.15.10 at 2:34 pm

Even conceding the status of women, African-Americans, and tossing out the Native American problem, there are still big problems with seeing 19th C USA as a libertarian state. In the first half of the 19th century, state and local governments were often interventionist, subsidizing and controlling canals and railroads, for example. In 1865, the USA had the highest tariff rates in the world. The would fall greatly by the end of the century, but they were quite high for decades after the Civil War. Tariff rates weren’t exactly low before the Civil War either. There is a nice graph showing this in Williamson’s Globalization and the Poor Periphery. Some aspects of American law in this period were modified in distinctly non-libertarian ways. Eminent domain proceedings were often run to the benefit of railroad companies and by any reasonable standard, infringed on the rights of property owners.
19th century American history is shot full of state interventions, protectionism, and use of government power to favor special interests. Sound familiar?

30

Myles SG 08.15.10 at 3:00 pm

As I was reminded in comments last time, snarking about libertarians is not a very productive substitute for writing well-argued posts about The Way Forward for Social Democracy, or writing my nearly-due examiners report for that PhD thesis, or revising my article on climate change on discounting, or getting the yard under control.

Pure gold. I am reminded, in reading the above snark, of Kingsley Amis’ classic, Luck Jim, when Jim Dixon is perusing his lugubrious paper on medieval shipbuilding techniques:

“In considering this strangely neglected topic,” it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a hypocrite and fool.

“It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems.”

Jim’s paper might indeed, had he lived in the late 20th or early 21st century, well been titled “The Way Forward for Social Democracy.”

31

ogmb 08.15.10 at 3:18 pm

Medieval Iceland libertarian? Quite possibly. A utopia? Only if this state of affairs can be considered a utopia:

“Úlfarr does not enjoy for long the use of Örlygr’s property, for old Thórólfr Lamefoot is still plotting. While returning home with gifts from Arnkell’s autumn feast, Úlfarr is ambushed and killed by a man sent by Thórólfr. By chance Arnkell is standing outside his house and sees the killer running across a field. Now, though his protection has proved ineffectual in keeping Úlfarr alive, he acts quickly in his own interest. Sending some of his followers to kill the runner, he immediately rides to Úlfarr’s farmstead where he claims that as Úlfarr’s protector he should inherit the property.”

32

Mr Punch 08.15.10 at 3:19 pm

This idea of Libertopia seems to me to be not only purely economic, but built around the availability of “exit” in Hirschman’s sense, or at least quasi-exit — you can go to the frontier, or be a Viking, while remaining within your society. That’s where the Indians come in — and they were no more part of the society than were the monks in those abbeys.

Otherwise, hard to see Victorian America as a libertarian dream.

33

sg 08.15.10 at 3:54 pm

Dan are you deliberately trying to be a caricature of a libertard troll? The comment about “a certain type of sophisticated leftist” is so many shades of pure evil, and so many colours of pure bullshit, that I can only conclude you’re being a comedian.

So many straw Indians for the rhetorical cowboy to shoot down…

34

Jacob T. Levy 08.15.10 at 4:22 pm

As a libertarian who’s been writing about indigenous land rights for going on twenty years, and defending my views on them to (inter alia) libertarian audiences in three different settler states, I can report that I’ve heard *exactly two* libertarians make the Lockean-Grotian agriculturalist objection. Kant’s argument Chris quotes is, in my experience, widely accepted. Nozick doesn’t endorse the Lockean equation of “labor” with “agriculture,” and David Lyons’ “The New Indian Claims and Original Rights to land” is widely referenced and endorsed. Waldron has seen the connection between arguing against the libertarian idea of pre-political property rights and his own argument against restitution for indigenous dispossession. And in general libertarians are sufficiently more comfortable with the idea of moral rights over land that predate and morally precede the positive law that they have an unusually *easy* time taking the wrong of dispossession seriously. Someone who endorses the Holmes-Sunstein and Nagel-Murphy thesis about rights, or the civic-republican account of liberty, should have a much harder time describing the dispossessory wrong involved (though not the genocidal wrongs).

It is true that there are libertarians who are willing to treat the dispossession as an asterisk, as Caplan treats the subordination of women. In my view *almost all* Americans, and most Canadians and Australians, treat the dispossession far too lightly even when they know it was wrong– as a discordant side note rather than a central fact. Libertarians aren’t exempt from that. But I *strongly* deny that ‘the response of real actual libertarians to this point about the US or Australia is always to use the example Chris gave, that “they didn’t have a concept of ownership of land” so it’s okay,’ or that among followed of Hayek and admirers of Elinor Ostrom you’re going to find many people who make ‘no allowance for the possibility of a non-written law, no allowance for consideration of use as ownership, of course no allowance for the possibility that the land was owned communally.”

35

Alex 08.15.10 at 4:50 pm

The problem with “exit” from society is that it presupposes entry into another, which no society can guarantee off its own bat*. Otherwise, what is the exit option from Libertopia? Start another one? Exit from society is like exit from a space station – not much use.

By the way, this:

The reality of course is that it’s not a libertarian space – it’s a corporate illusion of a libertarian space – very few people have a direct connection to the Internet proper, serve their own web pages or run their own email server.

is actually a point about libertarianism, rather than a point about the Internet. It’s not, in fact, particularly difficult or expensive to do any of these things in-house, not least because you can import stuff from the post-scarcity sector (particularly software, but also the universal interconnection model and the government-like services provided by IETF, your local RIR, etc). Not that many people do them – because, Coasianly, it’s easier to join a community that shares them or buy them as a product from a company that produces them.

This, though, is dependent on the existence of certain governmentlike institutions. Imagine getting IP address space from LibertopiaNIC; you wouldn’t be able to, because Verizon or KDDI or Libertopian Telecom would have been able to buy them all on day one.

*and let’s all raise a glass to the UN Convention on Refugees

36

roac 08.15.10 at 5:57 pm

Can someone point me to a serious attempt to demonstrate that Medieval Iceland proves the practical feasibility of Libertarian political theory? “Serious” as in “supported by evidence”? The first few places Google takes me to all strike me as seriously deranged. One guy, cited by others as an authority, asserts that when the Icelanders surrendered their sovereignty to the crown of Norway in the 13th century, Socialism triumphed.

37

James Wimberley 08.15.10 at 5:58 pm

The dispossession of hunter-gatherers, with hazy collective property rights over a territory, by farmers who may have individual exclusive property in happened in Europe 10,000 years ago. You can have the Grotius-Locke-Kant-Nozich argument about that. But what of the earlier dispossession of Neanderthals and other hominids by the fisrst wave of homo sapiens, about 100,000 years ago? It was complete and genocidal; we wiped out, worldwide, all human-like competitors more advanced than chimpanzees. The difficulty here is that the Neanderthals etc were very probably distinctly lesser in mental capacity than the invaders (us), so the cognitive error behind racism was then correct. But is it really OK to dispossess, wipe out or enslave cognitively inferior relatives?

38

EKR 08.15.10 at 6:02 pm

This, though, is dependent on the existence of certain governmentlike institutions. Imagine getting IP address space from LibertopiaNIC; you wouldn’t be able to, because Verizon or KDDI or Libertopian Telecom would have been able to buy them all on day one.

This is arguably true, but I think represents a defect in IP, namely the use of a fixed address space. A variable address (e.g., CLNP) doesn’t have this problem; as long as you have some minimal restriction on the number of prefixes anyone can grab, then there’s no shortage (and since any prefix lets you mint an arbitrary number of addresses, this is a sane restriction). You can get buy even without such a restriction as long as you’re willing to make prefixes long enough to be unenumerable (e.g., 80 bits). You could actually argue that the 128-bit address space in IPv6 already has this property, but since people want to subdivide their own spaces, short prefixes (which are easier to enumerate of course) are valuable.

39

LFC 08.15.10 at 6:13 pm

Which is worse: having your land stolen or being killed? The worst injustice done to the indigenous inhabitants was not the theft of land, though that was indeed bad, but that they were slaughtered (i.e., the “genocidal wrongs” referred to by Jacob Levy @32).

40

Keith 08.15.10 at 6:18 pm

“In fact it seems to me that only libertarianism (or, at least, property-based theories of justice) can adequately account for our intuitions that an injustice was done.”

“But if you’re the kind of sophisticated leftist that hangs out on Crooked Timber, you probably subscribe to a theory of justice that (among other things) denies the existence of any non-conventional property rights. But this makes it somewhat more difficult to diagnose the reason why an injustice took place.”

I’m with David@20 on this. The Trail of Tears constituted a moral failure unto itself, without even having to add the indignity of shady property law to the pot. What strikes me as horrific are 21C libertarians who reduce 19C genocide and its attendant consequences to nothing more than a squabble over property rights. As if one way — a way no more or less proper than any other way to solve disputes — is to give your opponent a virulent plague in the hope they die off before the matter can reach a friendly court that might set up some pesky precedents.

41

Jacob T. Levy 08.15.10 at 6:39 pm

While everything pales next to genocide, the dispossession of tens of millions of people and the theft of three continents is a pretty catastrophic additional moral wrong, not a minor squabble. It’s not as though either genocide or mass dispossession somehow needs to be minimized in order to take the other one seriously.

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john in california 08.15.10 at 7:51 pm

I am not an economist, nor Utopian, but I remember being impressed by the way two societies, the New Guinea Pauauans(sp?) and Northwest Native American potlatch tribes, evolved property relations for perishable and aesthetic goods that depended on an intrinsic human trait, the need for status. Such need is reflected in the name-bearing philanthropic works of the wealthy, though often self-rationalized on religious grounds, this need to be admired for the ability to be generous seems completely at odds with Randian neo-Darwinian sense of human relations. For all their talk about liberty, they spurn charity
(See this link suppied by the poorman this morning:

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2010/8/12hague.html

Dog-eat-dog, which seems to me a nut-shell description of Randian economics, is usually the end game for societies that no longer have sustainable, let alone abundant resources. So why does it seem to have such an appeal now? Economic anxiety? Flaccid community (read government) response? Fractured sense of belonging to ‘one people’? Lack of trust in everything in general?

I got into engineering (electronics) about the same time Raygun took office and have seen the ethos of the engineering “community” go from mildly apolitical to dogmatically randian although these same engineers have been steadily losing their jobs to offshore and, more and more, shipped in onshore Asian talent (these Asians, mostly Indian, even more Randian wrt taxes than their American counterparts). These American engineers remind me a lot of most Southern whites in the 50s-60s, who thought more about preserving their status vis a vis ‘coloreds’ than their own economic well being. For American engineers holding on to Randian values is totally schizophrenic but nevertheless, most I know still cling to the bone of Randian economics, that no positive good can come to them by generosity to others.

A good article on potlatch and the government’s response to it can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potlatch

43

mw 08.15.10 at 9:21 pm

I don’t think you all really grasp libertarianism. There are certainly libertarian separatist dreamers, but that impulse derives more from a sense of frustration than inherent isolationism. Libertarians hate the idea of autarky. I, Pencil (one of the most influential libertarian texts) is in complete opposition to autarky–as are libertarian calls for free trade and more open borders. Libertarians are all about the benefits that come from voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange, and they hate rent-seekers who use the coercive power of government to get a undeserved, unearned cut of everything (think of state-mandated liquor distributors who buy political influence to amass fortunes that derive completely from regulatory capture rather than providing a valuable service — and yes, feel free to insert a photo John McCain’s father-in-law in that slot). But from the perspective of the mutual benefits of specialized trade, the concept of an isolated ‘libertarian utopia’ is inherently contradictory.

For libertarians, the ideal would be to live in a highly interconnected, integrated society where the limited government handled the essential services (common defense, the rule of law, social safety net) very effectively and stayed the hell out of everything else. Where there was no opportunity for rent-seeking, regulatory capture, and ‘baptists and bootlegger’ shenanigans because there would be precious few regulators to capture.

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piglet 08.15.10 at 9:21 pm

Among the more plausible candidates for an Actually Existing Libertopia, the US in C19 (with asterisks) is pretty prominent.

It would be useful to provide some quotations for that statement lest libertarians will decry this as a straw man argument (as some posters here seem to be doing).

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piglet 08.15.10 at 9:26 pm

For libertarians, the ideal would be to live in a highly interconnected, integrated society where the limited government handled the essential services (common defense, the rule of law, social safety net) very effectively and stayed the hell out of everything else.

How does that differ from classic liberal ideals? The definition of what are “essential services”, is that all?

46

tomkow 08.15.10 at 9:59 pm

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Brett Bellmore 08.15.10 at 10:05 pm

“How does that differ from classic liberal ideals?”

It doesn’t, really. “Libertarian” is just a way of saying “classical liberal”. Hopefully with less chance of being confused with “liberals”, who have essentially nothing to do with classical liberalism.

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John Quiggin 08.15.10 at 10:27 pm

Jacob @34, to clarify my point a bit further, I wasn’t suggesting that the kind of libertarian who points to the C19 US as an approximation to libertopia normally makes the explicit claim that the expropriation of the existing population was justified on Lockean or Grotian grounds. Rather my point was that by using terms like “frontier” and “expansion” rather than “border” and “conquest”, such libertarians effectively asterisk out the coercion on which their case relies. I think Brett @21 pretty much concedes this.

And of course, this snark only applies to certain kinds of libertarian utopians. (I’d include Nozick, even though he is too sophisticated to claim agriculture as a basis for expropriation. All he does is substitute some different asterisks between an unjust initial acquisition and a supposedly sacrosanct set of existing rights in much the manner of the underpants gnomes).

I tend to feel that the utopian/absolutist strain of libertarianism tends to encourage rather doctrinaire styles of reasoning among self-identified libertarians, even those who aren’t themselves utopian (cf the impact of Marxism on the left). So, it’s worth snarking, if only to encourage more productive dialog with those amenable to more consequentialist arguments about what kinds of institutions are conducive to human wellbeing.

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Eli Rabett 08.16.10 at 12:16 am

Property is theft

50

Ken 08.16.10 at 12:23 am

mw @43 wrote: “I don’t think you all really grasp libertarianism.”

The problem I have is that it’s like software standards. There are so many to choose from. Case in point: This thread, where at least five people (including mw @43) have defined what libertarianism really says, with no two definitions quite agreeing. Or the “Not Going Galt” from a couple of days ago, where the same happened.

This is of course not peculiar to libertarians. Liberals and conservatives have just as much internal disagreement about what their principles really are. The only reason I find the libertarians (or at least the Rand contingent) a little grating is that they’re always invoking logic, as if everyone must inevitably come to the same conclusions from their premises, when clearly nothing of the sort actually happens.

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engels 08.16.10 at 1:27 am

I tend to feel that the utopian/absolutist strain of libertarianism tends to encourage rather doctrinaire styles of reasoning among self-identified libertarians, even those who aren’t themselves utopian (cf the impact of Marxism on the left).

Phew. I was worried we might get through a whole post and comment thread attacking libertarians without an equal and opposite swipe being made at Marxists, for being just as bad, in their own way. I’m relieved to see the harmony of the cosmic order has been preserved. It is still alarming to hear about the devastating impact Marxism has had on the Australian left, though.

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m 08.16.10 at 2:17 am

The opposite perspective on 19th century US is William Novak, The People’s Welfare. Also, Jefferson himself did not have a “Lockean” understanding of property, although it is arguable too that Locke did not have what is discussed here as a Lockean understanding of property.

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PHB 08.16.10 at 3:19 am

Each time this comes up I think of a ‘shorter crooked timber’ in which these arguments are neatly compressed into ‘Libertarians are blind ideologues and therefore idiots, Republicans are bigots for peddling their latest hate plank, Israel is turning into an Apartheid state and every member of the Library of Living philosophers has snuffed it.’

Did I miss anything out?

Of course the problem with Libertopia is the asterisks. Watch any decently accurate movie or documentary about the West and the lack of law and order was clearly not considered a good thing. You can even read these things called books and get the same information. People did not just sit down and respect the property rights of others, there were constant ranch wars and the weaker members of society were constantly having their property appropriated by force.

People actually living in this Libertopia demanded law and order because without it they could not be free of the gun slingers and thugs. That is why they pushed for statehood.

Of course it is easy to solve any problem if you can apply magical thinking and ignore the hard part. Wouldn’t dictatorship work just great if you could find the right person to be dictator?

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Doctor Science 08.16.10 at 3:35 am

I find that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter casts a particularly clear light on the libertarian vision of the American frontier.

There’s no doubt that Laura’ father thought of himself in libertarian terms. “Free and independent” is his mantra and that of the other settlers: they came west, they say, to be free and self-reliant, proud and independent, owing no man anything.

But if you pay attention to what they actually do and how they actually live, they are completely dependent on the government and the industrial society they claim to be fleeing. Laura’s family stakes a claim — on land expropriated from the Indians not in the misty past but within the past few years.

To hold the claim they have to live on the land, but they can’t actually support themselves there — the ground isn’t ready for serious agriculture, even if the climate was suitable. They don’t even have a place to live without materials that have to be brought in — nothing available to them can be used to make a shelter they’re willing to live in.

The women and children live on the claim to secure the legal title, but the family’s income mostly comes from work on the railroad. Laura’s parents talk about self-sufficiency, but at no point in her life do they actually survive on food they produce themselves — purchased flour, meal, and meat are *always* the backbone of their diet. This food comes on the railroad from the East.

Their dependence is made clear during The Long Winter when the railroad is blocked. The frontier townspeople talk about being free and independent, but they are in fact still completely tied into the industrial economy. Without it, they begin to starve.

They only survive the winter because of collective action. Laura’s future husband Almanzo and his brother are fronted money by the general store owner to make a perilous journey to buy wheat for everybody in town. They bring it back at great risk, and the storeman wants to sell it at a monopoly price — giving the Wilder boys a fee for their efforts, of course. The Wilders, though, say *they didn’t do it for money*, and they won’t take money from the mouths of the starving. Laura’s father tells the storeman that *of course* he’s a free man who can do whatever he wants with his property — but the townspeople will also be perfectly free to ignore him socially and economically after winter is over. It’s libertarian rhetoric as a veneer over communitarian actions.

Furthermore, the more I’ve thought about their situation (while I read and re-read the book to my children), the more I’ve realized that their libertarian ideals are part of what brings the town to the edge of total disaster. Everyone in town *should* be living together, sharing warmth, food, and company — not wasting precious fuel trying to heat individual houses. With communal living and eating arrangements, they wouldn’t have nearly as much trouble getting through the winter.

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lemuel pitkin 08.16.10 at 4:34 am

Doctor Science,

That’s an important point, well-made.

And yet the curious thing — perhaps you were aware — is that Laura’s daughter Rose, who evidently did most of the actual writing, was a self-identified libertarian. In fact, she may be the person who coined the term in its modern political sense. Whether she simply couldn’t see the political implications of her own books, whether she was unconsciously subverting her politics with her story (or vice versa), whether this is the working-out of some mother-daughter conflict, or whether it’s just the ur-example of libertarian un-self-awareness, I couldn’t say. But it is interesting that the lessons you and I see clear as day in the books, the person who wrote them, did not.

56

sg 08.16.10 at 4:42 am

lemuel and Doctor Science, I think that example speaks to a side point of libertarian fantasies, in which they imagine that people in their libertarian ideal world will actually behave quite selflessly – give to charity, do the right thing by their neighbours, etc. I think a lot of libertarians secretly (and not so secretly) think that our “statist” society has corrupted human morals, just as anarchists often do. They make this claim openly about the “welfare dependent” poor, but I think they also believe it about the rest of society. So they can see the selfless acts of the characters Doctor Science describes as impossible in anything except a libertarian society, and not inconsistent with it.

So much of what happens in a society without law-and-order and enforced constraints depends on this. Libertarians seem to worship “good” strong men like Bush, and think that people who run big companies are better people, so it stands to reason that they think these superior people will behave better if unfettered by the moral constraints of “statism.” They see their new society as personally, as well as economically liberating.

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Anarcho 08.16.10 at 8:36 am

“Looking at the US case, it seems fair to say that . . . the 19th century setup was a fair approximation to the libertarian ideal.”

Well, the individualist anarchists argued that it was not libertarian (in the true, left-wing libertarian, sense of the word) and spent a great deal of time trying to reform it into a non-exploitative and non-oppressive system.

For example, it did not have “occupancy and use” in terms of land. Somewhat ironically, for Murray Rothbard, the nineteenth century saw “the establishment in North America of a truly libertarian land system.” [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 73] In contrast, the Individualist Anarchists attacked that land system as the “land monopoly” and looked forward to a time when “the libertarian principle to the tenure of land” was actually applied [Tucker, Liberty, no. 350, p. 5] Clearly, Tucker and Rothbard were using the term “libertarian” in different ways.

Also, the individualist anarchists were quite away that the state was imposing capitalism onto America during the 19th century, echoing Marx’s analysis in chapter 33 of Capital (“The Modern Theory of Colonization”). Also, given that Rothbard suggested that 19th century was close to his utopia, it was not very stable (massive booms and slumps) and not to mention the company thugs who were hired to smash unions.

As for Medieval Iceland, that was a actually a very communal society. There was common land, communal bodies which worked like a mini-welfare state (and were compulsory), community assemblies, and a host of other institutions which would simply not exist in “anarcho”-capitalism. In short, the Icelandic Commonwealth was a pre-capitalist communal society whose political institutions finally collapsed due to increasing wealth concentrations (probably the only capitalistic thing about it).

Could there be a propertarian utopia? Perhaps, but I doubt it would be a nice place to life. Massive inequalities of wealth, regular economic crisis, private cops enforcing the property owners’ rule on wage-slaves and tenants, and so on. Yes, perhaps 19th century America was pretty close… which explains why so many reform and revolutionary movements developed!

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Robert 08.16.10 at 9:23 am

David Friedman, Milton’s son, is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. He claims, I guess, that Iceland was close to a propertarian ideal in the second edition (but not the first) of The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism. I don’t know how much fantasy he read, but he does mention Robert Heinlein in the dedication.

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herr doktor bimler 08.16.10 at 9:34 am

the creation of a ‘libertopia’ will become feasible only when space is opened up to colonization

It’s a shame that heavy-handed laws are barring people from space, but I’m sure that the legislators mean well.

60

Earnest O'Nest 08.16.10 at 9:36 am

Well, I would most gladly volunteer to fly them to the moon.

61

Brett Bellmore 08.16.10 at 10:49 am

“Libertarians seem to worship “good” strong men like Bush”

That is about as counter-factual, I might even say delusional, a claim as I’ve ever seen. Bush was utterly LOATHED by libertarians. Can’t you even try to make plausible arguments?

62

ajay 08.16.10 at 10:56 am

It’s a shame that heavy-handed laws are barring people from space, but I’m sure that the legislators mean well.

You probably mean this as a joke, but there are people seriously arguing that the Outer Space Treaty is just such a law (prohibits ownership of space, so you can’t go out and homestead the Sea of Tranquillity). Not to mention heavy-handed laws preventing you from building your own NERVA stack from scratch and riding it into orbit.

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ajay 08.16.10 at 10:56 am

61: many self-described libertarians in fact supported Bush very strongly.

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Walt 08.16.10 at 11:05 am

Holy shit, Brett, after the years you spent apologizing for Bush here in liberal comment sections, you think we’ve forgotten? You decided you didn’t like Bush when it became clear he was a world-historical failure as a President, and not before that.

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a. y. mous 08.16.10 at 12:13 pm

One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious, as in It’s a nice day, or You’re very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright? At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour. If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up. After a few months’ consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favour of a new one. If they don’t keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working. After a while he abandoned this one as well as being obstructively cynical.

After 4 days of continuous discussions, CT has reached an infinite loop consisting of the following two statements.

a) Not only does one have inviolate rights, one has non-negotiable duties as well.
b) No True Scotsman.

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Seth Gordon 08.16.10 at 2:52 pm

In fact, there’s a line of thought among libertarians that the creation of a ‘libertopia’ will become feasible only when space is opened up to colonization, creating a frontier again.

As Mr. Stross, among others, has pointed out, this is a pipe-dream. No VC firm would finance space colonization, and no gang of rugged individualists could afford to live in space without some kind of massive terrestrial subsidy.

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Francis 08.16.10 at 2:54 pm

I appreciate that “Move to Somalia” is a standard insult to American libertarians, but doesn’t Somalia present an interesting test case for 21st century libertarianism? There’s no recognized central government, and in return the country is regularly invaded and piracy has become a key economic activity. According to the newspapers, people who actually live there rely heavily on their family and clan to survive.

So, if some central government is needed to provide essential services (like defense), I’m curious how libertarians plan on keeping the exercise of that government’s powers to a minimum. Adopt a constitution of expressly limited powers? Give substantial authority to a judiciary to invalidate legislative actions in excess of those powers? Require that judges be sociopaths?

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Nickp 08.16.10 at 2:56 pm

John:
I’d guess, though I have no real evidence that the same was true in Iceland once the Viking option was no longer available.

I think you are more-or-less correct about the importance of frontier, but your comment about looting abbeys is ahistorical. IIRC, it wasn’t Icelanders who were looting abbeys in England or France, it was mostly Norwegians and Danes (with the Swedes more focused eastwards).

I think your argument still works, because Iceland itself was the frontier. When discovered by Norwegians, Iceland was uninhabited apart from a few monks, so the settlement period in Iceland was a relief-valve for Norway, in which Norwegians who found the local rulers to big for their boots could head across the ocean. Once the frontier closed down in Iceland, local chieftains began accumulating power . “Libertopia” would, I guess, be the period between the opening of the Icelandic frontier and the point at which internal fighting among local chieftains led to breakdown of society and the Norwegian king taking control.

If early Iceland was libertopia, then give me a socialist welfare state any day.

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Ken 08.16.10 at 3:11 pm

Doctor Science @54: “The Wilders, though, say they didn’t do it for money, and they won’t take money from the mouths of the starving.”

Thereby, in Ayn Rand’s system of (shall we call it) morality, making them fully deserving of dying horribly in a train wreck.

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bianca steele 08.16.10 at 3:13 pm

Dr Science:
It’s amazing how many things I see in kids’ books that I am certain were not there when I read them as a kid. (We are only barely up to Caldecott winners ourselves.)

sg@56:
Then, if the people they’re really annoyed about are their kids’ white middle class schoolmates, what good is cutting welfare benefits going to do? Shouldn’t they be encouraging the kids they have an influence on to learn to act like adults instead (somehow without encouraging them to have babies at seventeen as proof they’ve learned their lesson). There is no logic I understand behind changing their kids’ environment by trying to change an entirely separate group of people.

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mw 08.16.10 at 3:33 pm

They only survive the winter because of collective action. Laura’s future husband Almanzo and his brother are fronted money by the general store owner to make a perilous journey to buy wheat for everybody in town. They bring it back at great risk, and the storeman wants to sell it at a monopoly price—giving the Wilder boys a fee for their efforts, of course. The Wilders, though, say they didn’t do it for money, and they won’t take money from the mouths of the starving. Laura’s father tells the storeman that of course he’s a free man who can do whatever he wants with his property—but the townspeople will also be perfectly free to ignore him socially and economically after winter is over. It’s libertarian rhetoric as a veneer over communitarian actions.

No — libertarians love that kind of private, voluntary cooperation. What they hate is government coerced collective action. Libertarianism i>isn’t about isolated people going it alone.

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sg 08.16.10 at 3:51 pm

Bianca, they probably do encourage their kids to do all that stuff (one hopes). The thing is that there are big structural reasons why in any kind of “libertopia” no-one will be willing to do it.

This also answers mw: yeah, libertarians may love that kind of private, voluntary cooperation, but in their dream society it’s going to be the exception, not the rule. You can’t build a dream society on exceptions (as, perhaps, the communists discovered).

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 4:03 pm

I am slightly perturbed by how much gratuitous libertarian-bashing there is going on here. I mean, yes, among our bunch (I suppose my being a classical liberal makes me a libertarian in today’s books), there is a great deal of magical thinking. But there is just as much magical thinking, if not more, in social democracy and democratic socialism, or in any sort of traditional conservatism.

The point isn’t to grab onto some libertarian’s silly horns and start using it as a start point to demonstrate how the entire ideology is hopelessly tainted; one could do this easily with any ideology. This isn’t so much a discussion as a fairly antagonistic lemon session. You can’t discredit liberalism/social democracy by pointing at Michael Moore, and one similarly shouldn’t bother trying to make it into some general point about libertarianism by pointing at some of the more ridiculous and risible ideas coming from libertarians.

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roac 08.16.10 at 4:37 pm

A fair point, Myles; why don’t you post a list of non-ridiculous, non-risible libertarian ideas, and we’ll see if there’s any interest in discussing those? Four or five would be about right; 95 would be too many.

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lemuel pitkin 08.16.10 at 4:39 pm

You can’t discredit liberalism/social democracy by pointing at Michael Moore

That’s correct. Because Moore’s work, while a bit erratic, is generally very good.

Just out of curiosity, Myles, what specific argument of Moore’s do you find so discreditable?

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bianca steele 08.16.10 at 4:46 pm

sg:
Sorry, I wrote too quickly. ISTM that people who call themselves libertarians usually do want people to be more like themselves, and want a smaller state both to encourage people to be more like themselves, and so people like themselves won’t be interfered with–but they don’t envision the alternative to a small state to be “giving to charity” (and not only because they take most of their views from Ayn Rand). Your opinion seems to be that people who think of themselves as libertarians generally are conventionally good people who want an opportunity to be good, and think the government makes people bad. Where do you think the difference is coming from?

And consider someone who fits your description but calls themselves something other than “libertarian”: I wouldn’t want to say they are suffering from false consciousness.

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Seth Gordon 08.16.10 at 4:49 pm

I think there are three very different phenomena that are often discussed under the rubric of “libertarianism”:

(1) The idea that certain social problems are better handled by market mechanisms than by command-and-control mechanisms. In some cases (cap-and-trade for carbon emissions) the argument for the market approach looks pretty strong. In others (privatizing Social Security), not so much. But you can accept the argument for a market-based solution for some particular social problem without buying into any broader political philosophy.

(2) The 21st-century Republican Party’s fealty to tax cuts, tax cuts, and more tax cuts. Phrases like “small government” are often invoked as slogans to support this ideology, but there is no serious attempt to combine the tax cuts with anything recognizable as a principled “small government” program—continuation of the so-called war on drugs, expansion of military spending, bank bailouts, etc., are enacted right along with the tax cuts.

(3) The philosophy that all government activity outside of a certain tightly limited range (or, for some, all government activity, period) that interferes with private property and contract relations is simply immoral. (Alternatively: that such activity inevitably leads to a bad end, even if it doesn’t seem to be hurting us right now.) Compared with the other two phenomena above, this philosophy is coherent enough that it can be argued about, and God knows people do argue about it all over the Internet. But as a political program, it will never be enacted into law, which makes me wonder why lefties feel so compelled to invest (ahem) their time in arguing against it.

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lemuel pitkin 08.16.10 at 4:53 pm

In some cases (cap-and-trade for carbon emissions) the argument for the market approach looks pretty strong.

You do realize that, economically, cap-and-trade and a carbon tax are identical on this dimension, right? With one (C&T), the government sets the quantity of carbon emitted and lets private actors determine the price; with the other (the tax) the government sets the price of carbon emissions and lets private actors determine the quantity. So, which one is the market approach, and which is command and control?

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Seth Gordon 08.16.10 at 5:00 pm

In the context of carbon emissions, when I think “command-and-control” I think of regulations specifying exactly what has to be attached to each smokestack in order to reduce the pollution from it.

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mw 08.16.10 at 5:06 pm

But as a political program, it will never be enacted into law…

Never is a very long time, and classical liberalism is not hopelessly impractical or exotic. And, of course, it’s not an all-or-nothing deal. Do you think it’s impossible, for example, that the drug prohibition and the ‘war on drugs’ will ever end? Do you think it’s impossible that immigration will ever be more liberal than now? That police SWAT teams will ever be disbanded? Or, look at it this way, many libertarian-favored policies have been implemented since the middle of the 20th century in the U.S.. We have a volunteer military rather than a draft. Airlines, trucking, and telecommunications have been significantly deregulated, providing much better service at lower prices. The kind of statist wage and price controls that Nixon implemented are unthinkable now even with a left-liberal Democratic president.

…which makes me wonder why lefties feel so compelled to invest (ahem) their time in arguing against it.

Partly because of the successes I listed above — libertarian ideas don’t require electoral success by the Libertarian Party (TM). But also, I think, because libertarians and liberals are competing for the same kinds of minds:

Libertarians may support the Republican Party for economic reasons, but in their moral foundations profile we found they more closely resemble liberals than conservatives.

http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2010/03/11/libertarian-moral-psychology/

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HMDK 08.16.10 at 5:14 pm

“Libertarians may support the Republican Party for economic reasons”…
buhhh… huh? THIS is supposed to count in your favor?

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Seth Gordon 08.16.10 at 5:14 pm

I am sure that individual programs favored by libertarians can become law to the extent that they are sold as acheiving goals that non-libertarians approve of. (See item (1) on my list above.) You don’t have to be a libertarian to oppose having your children drafted or to favor cheaper airline tickets. But US government spending as a percent of GDP has risen steadily since the Nixon Administration, and the second Bush Administration, at the zenith of its political power, could not privatize Social Security.

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mw 08.16.10 at 5:20 pm

But US government spending as a percent of GDP has risen steadily since the Nixon Administration

No, it really hasn’t grown steadily — between 1962 and 2001, spending as a percentage of GDP hovered around 20%:

http://www.cbo.gov/docimages/35xx/doc3521/352101.gif
http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=3521&type=0

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 5:25 pm

A fair point, Myles; why don’t you post a list of non-ridiculous, non-risible libertarian ideas, and we’ll see if there’s any interest in discussing those? Four or five would be about right; 95 would be too many.

Just off the top of my head: 1) Free trade (this is textbook economics: comp. adv.) 2) Free movement of capital and persons 3) Environmental protection through market mechanism (which has essentially achieved consensus status) 4) Drugs legalization 5) Freedom of firearms ownership

By the way, I honestly want to scream the next time someone uses “labour conditions” as a pretext to stop free-trade agreement. Somehow by not providing jobs in the country in question, and not even giving the indigents a choice whether to take newly created jobs, you are making labour conditions…….better? This is the product of a reactionary mindset, not liberalism.

That’s correct. Because Moore’s work, while a bit erratic, is generally very good.

I wouldn’t call trying to discredit the U.S. health system by taking people to Castro’s Cuba to prove, what, Castro’s system superior to the U.S. one, any sort of serious non-disingenuous work. And the plainly dishonest attempt to link outsourcing with the decrease in automotive-sector employment (the auto sector is still over-staffed). I honestly don’t know what’s more disturbing: that Michael Moore doesn’t know that the economic catastrophe that’s befallen towns like Flint, MI, has nothing to do with off-shoring and (more and more nowadays, as Japanese manufacturers build American factories) free trade, or that he simply doesn’t give a damn about the truth. Your mileage, however, might differ, but whatever the case I consider one extra breath spent on debating Moore a breath wasted.

Seriously, this is Crooked Timber, not Daily Kos or Jane Hamsher’s website. Take your Moore-fights elsewhere. Not interested.

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F 08.16.10 at 5:56 pm

@56

The mantra is that “of course I will be charitable, just as soon as government stops making me be charitable in ways I find objectionable”. But there is zero evidence of this, and I tend to think a healthy part of the libertarian fantasy is that *everyone else* will become more charitable, absolving the fantasist from having to do so.

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bianca steele 08.16.10 at 6:20 pm

Myles SG:
But you come close to conceding, I think, that free trade and free movement of labor are no longer part of the libertarian platform, if they ever were. Free trade as the inherent goal of history has been in public school history books (yes, those liberal history books) for going on forty years, and free movement of labor is support by Nader-voting Cape Cod bed&breakfast owners who want the number of work visas increased to a large enough number that the big multi-nationals can’t snap them all up on the first day. What remains are your 4 & 5 and a bunch of symbolic issues.

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HMDK 08.16.10 at 6:22 pm

Myles.

1) Free trade (this is textbook economics: comp. adv.)

No. It is a meaningless buzzword that can, and has, been interpreted in different ways.

2) Free movement of capital and persons

Yep, brain drain and tax shelters are the midwives of of a better humanity…

3) Environmental protection through market mechanism (which has essentially achieved consensus status)

Nah, you just pay a fine ande put out some propaganda pamphlets and
suddenly you’re a “green” company.

4) Drugs legalization

I’d go along with this one, if only because nothing else has worked,
and that it is an enormous waste. Put the money into prevention and rehabilitation instead.

5) Freedom of firearms ownership

Sure.
But only for the people who actually need them.
Backup weapons for cops, shotguns/rifles for farmers and so on…
But no easy to convert-to-full-auto at your corner hunting store.

And as for your positions on Healthcare, you’re a nut.
Here in Denmark, OH NO SOCIALIST EUROPE!, we used to have unemployment and healthcare provided by the government, and while it was hardly perfect, it was better than what we have now: Our right wing (a little to the left of the U.S. democrats), started privatizing both. The end result: big subsidies to private companies while the quality of service declines. Why? because the private sector isn’t as accountable as the public one. You can vote for or against politicians. CEOs? Not so much.

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HMDK 08.16.10 at 6:27 pm

Just to amend, we STILL have public healthcare, but the private sector is being granted huge bonuses for “picking up the slack”, instead of, you know, modernizing the public sector. It has nothing to do with efficiency, but with money and ideology.

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roac 08.16.10 at 6:34 pm

1) Free trade (this is textbook economics: comp. adv.) 2) Free movement of capital and persons 3) Environmental protection through market mechanism (which has essentially achieved consensus status) 4) Drugs legalization 5) Freedom of firearms ownership

Well, Myles took me up on it, so I feel obligated to take him up on it. Briefly, I lack the training to address no. 1 or no. 2 usefully. With regard to no. 3, certainly market mechanisms have been shown to be an effective mechanism for environmental protection (though I doubt they are sufficient to achieve desirable outcomes in all cases.) But the ones of which I am aware were all imposed by government fiat, and if the legislation which set them up were repealed tomorrow, they would vanish instantly.

No. 5: No. But this is an argument which the Sensible Party in the US has lost beyond any prospect of immediate recovery, so I don’t propose to waste time talking about it.

Which leaves drug legalization. I think you will find few people here who would not agree that intensive criminal enforcement has spectacularly failed, over a long period of time, to solve the drug problem, and all the War-on-Drugs machinery ought to m be melted down. I also agree that marijuana prohibition should be lifted immediately, full stop, because it has been shown to be essentially harmless to its users.

Where I part company with at least some libertarians, however — and I tried to have this argument with Brett Bellmore on the other thread — is where they assert that what substances an individual puts in his body are no business of anyone else’s. I think it is beyond argument that if we adopted a wholly laissez-faire policy toward the use of heroin, for example, considerable numbers of people would die, quickly or slowly, as a result.

I think society has an obligation to that appropriate steps discourage even its dumbest members from doing things that are obviously harmful to them. We insist that cars have safety glass not plate glass windshields, and we put high fences around high voltage substations. The strain of libertarianism to which I object seems to me to be based on the calculation that “I am sensible and am not going to do foolish things; the more opportunity for other people to do foolish things, the more my competitive advantage over them.” In other words, Social Darwinism.

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Doctor Science 08.16.10 at 6:35 pm

I find that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter casts a particularly clear light on the libertarian vision of the American frontier.

There’s no doubt that Laura’ father thought of himself in libertarian terms. “Free and independent” is his mantra and that of the other settlers: they came west, they say, to be free and self-reliant, proud and independent, owing no man anything.

But if you pay attention to what they actually do and how they actually live, they are completely dependent on the government and the industrial society they claim to be fleeing. Laura’s family stakes a claim — on land expropriated from the Indians not in the misty past but within the past few years.

To hold the claim they have to live on the land, but they can’t actually support themselves there — the ground isn’t ready for serious agriculture, even if the climate was suitable. They don’t even have a place to live without materials that have to be brought in — nothing available to them can be used to make a shelter they’re willing to live in.

The women and children live on the claim to secure the legal title, but the family’s income mostly comes from work on the railroad. Laura’s parents talk about self-sufficiency, but at no point in her life do they actually survive on food they produce themselves — purchased flour, meal, and meat are *always* the backbone of their diet. This food comes on the railroad from the East.

Their dependence is made clear during The Long Winter when the railroad is blocked. The frontier townspeople talk about being free and independent, but they are in fact still completely tied into the industrial economy. Without it, they begin to starve.

They only survive the winter because of collective action. Laura’s future husband Almanzo and his brother are fronted money by the general store owner to make a perilous journey to buy wheat for everybody in town. They bring it back at great risk, and the storeman wants to sell it at a monopoly price — giving the Wilder boys a fee for their efforts, of course. The Wilders, though, say *they didn’t do it for money*, and they won’t take money from the mouths of the starving. Laura’s father tells the storeman that *of course* he’s a free man who can do whatever he wants with his property — but the townspeople will also be perfectly free to ignore him socially and economically after winter is over. It’s libertarian rhetoric as a veneer over communitarian actions.

Furthermore, the more I’ve thought about their situation (while I read and re-read the book to my children), the more I’ve realized that their libertarian ideals are part of what brings the town to the edge of total disaster. Everyone in town *should* be living together, sharing warmth, food, and company — not wasting precious fuel trying to heat individual houses. With communal living and eating arrangements, they wouldn’t have nearly as much trouble getting through the winter.

lemuel pitkin @55:

I read that New Yorker article, too, and Rose’s libertarianism is one factor pushing me to think Laura really did write most of the books. The difficulty with reading the Little House books IMHO is that young!Laura, from whose POV we see the story, is an unreliable narrator. She doesn’t lie to us about what she sees — but she doesn’t see everything or understand it on an adult level. Writer!Laura IMHO makes a lot of her points indirectly — like the fact that Pa Wilder loves the wilderness, but spends his life destroying it. Young!Laura loves and admires him, but that doesn’t mean Writer!Laura shows everything he does as loveable or admirable.

mw @69:

My point is that the cooperation in The Long Winter is not truly private nor voluntary. The wealthy storeman doesn’t cooperate voluntarily, but because he is threatened by the public acting together. They *are* the government of the isolated town, and Mr. Wilder later was an elected official.

It’s true that this is not state-level government, but it’s community-level socialism (or something): Mr. Wilder is a leader of the community against the wealthiest individual in it.

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Doctor Science 08.16.10 at 6:38 pm

drat, copied the first part in. My kingdom for an edit function ….

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 6:45 pm

Yep, brain drain and tax shelters are the midwives of of a better humanity…

I am sure that the brain drain of Jewish professionals, artists, and scientists from the Soviet Union was such an appalling display of lack of public-spiritedness……

Oh wait. Without the threat of brain drain, there would not be the necessary pressures for an out-of-shape and obsolete system to shape up. If your professionals and scientists are leaving your country in droves, it means there’s something wrong with your country, not something wrong with the people leaving. Keeping people within a territory by force or coercion is the definition of tyranny.

I honestly didn’t imagine that you would root against “free movement of persons,” given that you know, it’s like one of the founding principles of the United Nations. That definitely counts for my morning shock. Good lord: even at Crooked Timber, the totalitarian impulse rears its ugly head.

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 6:51 pm

But the ones of which I am aware were all imposed by government fiat, and if the legislation which set them up were repealed tomorrow, they would vanish instantly.

The government’s power to regulate in this case, given the present of negative externalities, is probably the same as its power of police. Which is to say, I don’t think there is necessarily an ideological problem with government fiat in integrating the positive and negative externalities of something together for the sole purpose of achieving a more perfect market.

The strain of libertarianism to which I object seems to me to be based on the calculation that “I am sensible and am not going to do foolish things; the more opportunity for other people to do foolish things, the more my competitive advantage over them.” In other words, Social Darwinism.

Perhaps some libertarians are thusly spirited, but my personal view (which is classical liberal) is that people, when freed from coercion and tyranny that imposes upon them choices against their natural inclination, find in their freedom the ability and inclination for good rather than bad. Which is to say, I believe that the coercion corrupts people, and the natural human inclination absent it is toward good.

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 6:53 pm

And as for your positions on Healthcare, you’re a nut.
Here in Denmark, OH NO SOCIALIST EUROPE!, we used to have unemployment and healthcare provided by the government, and while it was hardly perfect, it was better than what we have now: Our right wing (a little to the left of the U.S. democrats), started privatizing both.

I didn’t say I opposed healthcare as proposed by U.S. Democrats; I said that Michael Moore’s tactics to advance his single-payer agenda were dishonest, deceitful, disingenuous, and farcical. One could do the reverse and take some poor sap who had been beaten up by Castro’s thugs and put him in Mayo Clinic and use it as some sort of illustrative example of the grandeur of the American healthcare system, and frankly it wouldn’t have been any more dishonest than what Michael Moore did.

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HMDK 08.16.10 at 7:10 pm

Hey, Miles,
“I didn’t say I opposed healthcare as proposed by U.S. Democrats; I said that Michael Moore’s tactics to advance his single-payer agenda were dishonest, deceitful, disingenuous, and farcical. One could do the reverse and take some poor sap who had been beaten up by Castro’s thugs and put him in Mayo Clinic and use it as some sort of illustrative example of the grandeur of the American healthcare system, and frankly it wouldn’t have been any more dishonest than what Michael Moore did.”

I agree, but only to, ahem, a certain degree.
And I DID initially “oppose healthcare as proposed by U.S. Democrats”, but from the left.

Oh wait. Without the threat of brain drain, there would not be the necessary pressures for an out-of-shape and obsolete system to shape up. If your professionals and scientists are leaving your country in droves, it means there’s something wrong with your country, not something wrong with the people leaving. Keeping people within a territory by force or coercion is the definition of tyranny.

“I honestly didn’t imagine that you would root against “free movement of persons,” given that you know, it’s like one of the founding principles of the United Nations. That definitely counts for my morning shock. Good lord: even at Crooked Timber, the totalitarian impulse rears its ugly head.”

Uhhh, I don’t. But my solution would be for the state system to adjust certain benefits and budgets, instead of just letting the ephemeral, never-proven-to-exist, super free market god-hand determine our destinies.

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lemuel pitkin 08.16.10 at 7:27 pm

Mr. Wilder is a leader of the community against the wealthiest individual in it.

Yes.

Have you read Hierarchy in the Forest? It argues, IMO very compellingly, that exactly this dynamic was characteristic of the simple societies in which human beings have lived through most of our existence.

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bianca steele 08.16.10 at 7:40 pm

Dr Science, is The Long Winter the last book of the series? I seem to remember not finishing it because it was much more boring than the earlier books, but I was 10 or 11 and maybe my taste just wasn’t very good at that age.

98

Gareth Rees 08.16.10 at 7:53 pm

Doctor Science: when you write “Pa Wilder” do you actually mean “Pa Ingalls”?

Apart from that nitpick, I agree with your analysis of The Long Winter. Possibly peoples’ attitudes to the Wilder books are coloured by the age at which they read them. I can remember reading On the Banks of Plum Creek when very young (six or seven) and it all seemed enchanting—they lived in a dugout! the children didn’t have to go to school!—but on re-reading it as an adult it seemed distressing—they were so poor they had to live in a hole in the ground! they couldn’t send their children to school because they were too poor to afford shoes and it was too far to walk in bare feet!

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mw 08.16.10 at 7:54 pm

roac: I think it is beyond argument that if we adopted a wholly laissez-faire policy toward the use of heroin, for example, considerable numbers of people would die, quickly or slowly, as a result.

More than considerable numbers of people are having their lives destroyed and being killed by our insane war on drugs. When you read stories about people being gunned down in Mexico in the wars between rival cartels and between the cartels and government, you are seeing people being killed by prohibition. And despite the drug-war carnage, access to heroin is not all that difficult. In fact, in rural counties north of where I live, there have been a number of heroin overdose deaths in recent months and years–apparently because safer drugs (like oxycontin) were harder to get and more expensive than heroin. In the the 19th century, opiates were legal, and there certainly were addiction problems, but it’s not clear at all that they were worse than now and without prohibition there wasn’t the drug violence, the gross civil-liberties violations, and the insane levels of incarceration (and lives destroyed by criminal records).

Dr Science: My point is that the cooperation in The Long Winter is not truly private nor voluntary. The wealthy storeman doesn’t cooperate voluntarily, but because he is threatened by the public acting together. They are the government of the isolated town, and Mr. Wilder later was an elected official.

But of course it was both private and voluntary — none of the people involved were acting as state agents or at the behest of state agents. And nor, in your telling, did the townsfolk, say, pass a local ordinance fixing the price of grain–they merely pointed out that they (his customers) would remember how they were treated later and he should take that into consideration. The store keeper considered his alternatives (a quick profit vs alienating his customers) and made his choice.

You seem unable to grasp the difference between citizens threatening to take their business elsewhere in the future if they are mistreated and state coercion which is backed up by police, guns, courts and prisons. If you don’t understand that difference, you can’t understand libertarianism.

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Gareth Rees 08.16.10 at 7:57 pm

is The Long Winter the last book of the series?

There were two more published in Laura Wilder’s lifetime (Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years), and one published posthumously, The First Four Years.

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Stuart 08.16.10 at 8:03 pm

Perhaps some libertarians are thusly spirited, but my personal view (which is classical liberal) is that people, when freed from coercion and tyranny that imposes upon them choices against their natural inclination, find in their freedom the ability and inclination for good rather than bad. Which is to say, I believe that the coercion corrupts people, and the natural human inclination absent it is toward good.

Except the free market perverts peoples inclinations towards good, if being good means you are being outbid by someone without so much scruple. With small integrated societies these things can work through peer pressure and the high amount of information people have about the other people participating in the market (in fact almost any system can work in a small enough community, from communism to anarchism, to completely free markets with unbacked fiat currencies, or whatever).

As the amount of people in the market increases, the distance between the seller and buyer tends to grow rapidly, and as competition increases the pressure to cut corners to avoid being shut out of the market. A good example I know relatively well is food adulteration – so before any specific legislation things really start to kick off in the Victorian age alongside industrialisation – starting with adding sawdust and floor sweepings to bread becoming a standard practise, then even further with Bakers being caught cutting their flour with alum (I think, it ending up poisioning people on a regular basis until the government intervened anyway), “raspberry” jam with no raspberries (of course) but pips hand carved out of wood which was cheaper than using the real fruit, etc.

It is not as if the government has stamped it out, although the worst excesses have been stopped, and at least all the weird stuff they try on generally has to go on the label. So you still get up to 40% of the weight of a chicken breast being added water (and sometimes dried beef/pork protein used to stop the water coming back out, which some religious types aren’t keen on), or extra connective tissue being added to meat products up to the maximum limit the government allows without it being mentioned as an ingredient.

Taken to the extreme, where companies have continually pushed the boundaries on food production, you end up with the FDA specifying the exact ingredients and cooking methods to be allowed to call a product an “apple pie” or whatever, because absolutely any latitude that is given to companies is abused as some cheap replacement is found that can be cut with the real ingredients, or injected to bulk things up, etc.

To think of another random industry to prove food isn’t a special case, how about mining, showing that if workers are that worried about their jobs, they are happy to breath in poison air (even when the effects are so obvious that sufferers are referred to as “leaded”), let their children (and sooner or later all the towns/cities downstream of them) drink poisoned water, and still they fight the government trying to sort it out.

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John Quiggin 08.16.10 at 8:34 pm

Myles, I find it pretty strange that you quote “environmental protection through market mechanisms” as a libertarian goal. Virtually without exception, libertarians have embraced delusional conspiracy theories about the science of global warming rather than accept proposals for a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme.

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roac 08.16.10 at 8:35 pm

The method actually used by States to prevent famine, going back at least to the 41st chapter of the Book of Genesis, has been to impose a tax and use the proceeds to store grain in advance of need, which was distributed to the population at a nominal price when a harvest failed.

That assumes a well-established government with a steady resource base. However, it is possible to adapt the method to the frontier. Suppose the Wilders’ town had a government. Suppose it responded to the emergency by imposing a special assessment on property owners, and used the proceeds to pay Almanzo to trek through the snow.

I recognize that these strategies depend on state coercion backed up by guns. But they can be relied on to work, which is an advantage if your goal is to minimize starvation rather than to maximize freedom.

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 8:45 pm

Myles, I find it pretty strange that you quote “environmental protection through market mechanisms” as a libertarian goal. Virtually without exception, libertarians have embraced delusional conspiracy theories about the science of global warming rather than accept proposals for a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme.

I think you are conflating Tea Partiers with the representation of all libertarians. When I say market-based environmentalist mechanisms, I mean people like Greg Mankiw of Harvard, Bryan Caplan (I think?), the Cato Institute, and other assorted libertarian thinkers and econobloggers (which heavily tilt libertarian). Economists, for example, trend heavily libertarian but they are rarely climate-denialist.

I mean, I am actually somewhat miffed that you are claiming that ignorant people who claim the libertarian mantle (wrongly) for themselves are somehow representative of the intellectual face of the libertarian (and classical liberal) program.

Again, the problem of painting with a broad brush.

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 8:51 pm

Seriously, I am actually kind of bugged by this. “Virtually without exception” doesn’t sound right; it doesn’t sound even close to being right. If I didn’t know better I would accuse you of smearing libertarianism.

For example, this is the link for the “Pigou Club”, founded by Greg Mankiw:
http://www.pigouclub.com/members
Carbon tax is a Pigovian tax (Pigovian taxes are taxes which are levied on activities producing negative externalities) and thus people who support Pigovian taxes tend to have no problem ideologically with government regulation of negative externalities, such as pollutants.

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John Quiggin 08.16.10 at 8:51 pm

Cato, unfortunately, has been a leading proponent of anti-science delusion on climate change, as have the other main think tanks that claim some degree of libertarian thinking – Heartland and CEI for example.

Bryan Caplan has been neutral on the issue as far as I can see. Greg Mankiw supports carbon prices but he scarcely counts as a libertarian – he’s a New Keynesian who worked for Bush.

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 8:57 pm

By the way, here’s Greg Mankiw expressing support for a higher gasoline tax (functionally speaking, a form of carbon tax):
http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2006/10/pigou-club-manifesto.html

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 9:01 pm

Cato, unfortunately, has been a leading proponent of anti-science delusion on climate change, as have the other main think tanks that claim some degree of libertarian thinking – Heartland and CEI for example.

They are not so much gung-ho on anti-science as deliberately waffling. They aren’t willing to come right out and say it, but basically a good deal of their funding comes from oil, so they are somewhat constrained in that regard.

In any case, I know of D.C. conservatives who don’t necessarily believe in climate change but are perfectly amenable to “green” taxes and products, because they tend to not be progressive, and in any case everybody loves green products, because they are better products anyways (today’s “green” environmental-friendly label basically functions as a premium-product signifier for people, i.e. people like me, who believe in environmentalism but are not very obsessed about having everything “green”.)

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libertarian 08.16.10 at 9:15 pm

Virtually without exception, libertarians have embraced delusional conspiracy theories about the science of global warming rather than accept proposals for a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme.

Too bad our supposedly “delusional” take on global warming (we’re not into conspiracy theories quiggin – that’s your turf) turns out to be correct:

Some of us have been saying all along that climate scientists chronically underestimate uncertainty. For that we’ve been lined up with Holocaust deniers by the left. Well, eat your crow quiggin (it’s ok, I know you won’t – like most on the left you are incapable of ever admitting you were wrong; one reason why you need to be kept as far from the levers of power as possible).

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Myles SG 08.16.10 at 9:16 pm

Bryan Caplan has been neutral on the issue as far as I can see. Greg Mankiw supports carbon prices but he scarcely counts as a libertarian – he’s a New Keynesian who worked for Bush.

I think you are conflating macroeconomic philosophies with politicial/socio-economic/moral philosophies a bit. I think you can believe in New Keynesianism or Monetarism (although probably not Orthodox Keynesianism, at least as defined by postwar academia rather than Keynes himself) and still believe in Classical Liberalism (i.e. libertarianism). Keynes himself was broadly Liberal, not Labour (I think).

In any case, there’s a couple points: a) the New Deal/postwar economic policy went a lot, and I mean a lot, further in the statist and communitarian direction than Lord Keynes ever intended, and b) New Keynesianism is not super “Keynesian” in any case, because it essentially accepted a great deal of New Classical criticism.

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libertarian 08.16.10 at 9:34 pm

Reading the thread backwards, mw said it best.

I find it interesting that lefties like quiggin so desperately need to caricaturize libertarians. As with most things, self-interest provides the most probable explanation. The vast majority of his ilk are living proof of the inefficiency of large government, and hence are most threatened by a philosophy of minimal government.

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Red 08.16.10 at 9:52 pm

Libertarian @105 : your post comes exactly at the right time to prove John Q.’s point (@98) . Bravo!

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mw 08.16.10 at 10:03 pm

As the amount of people in the market increases, the distance between the seller and buyer tends to grow rapidly, and as competition increases the pressure to cut corners to avoid being shut out of the market.

Actually, the opposite appears to be true — that is, there’s empirical evidence that the more people engage in market economies, the more fair and ethical they are in their treatment of strangers:

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/327/5972/1480

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Eli 08.16.10 at 10:25 pm

The “opia” in Libertopia owes its existence to the fact that Libertarianism is a *state of mind*, not a sustainable country. I mean, I would love to live in a world in which no one steals from one another or drives recklessly. But since I don’t, I have to put up with prisons and speeding tickets. If Libertarianism can’t even solve these kinds of petty issues, it will *never* be able to solve larger issues like ACME dumping toxic sludge in the nearest barrio, or even making sure crack babies get a proper education.

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libertarian 08.16.10 at 10:42 pm

Umm Red @108 – I quoted quiggin @98. Read my link @105. Or is Annals of Statistics too shabby a journal for you to bother with?

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Norwegian Guy 08.16.10 at 10:51 pm

mw 109:

But the larger the economy is, the more strangers you will enage with. So the opportunity for unfair treatment increases. That’s exactly the historical process that Stuart was describing.

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bianca steele 08.16.10 at 11:03 pm

roac @ 99:

As you point out, the frontier towns had no properly functioning government so they started from the bottom up and created ad hoc forms of organization. I think it would have been normal in, for example, Europe, for most of the past several centuries, for the government to act as you describe, to prevent famine and outlaw hording.

A certain kind of conservative might celebrate these native forms of organization to the extent they still survive.

Another type of conservative might question the legitimacy of bottom-up organization arising in the way described in The Long Winter, and argue that this wouldn’t have happened if the British Crown had still been in charge: in other words, if the colonists had not rebelled (ignoring the arguable incompetence of Parliament in implementing top-down administration).

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mw 08.16.10 at 11:08 pm

But the larger the economy is, the more strangers you will enage with. So the opportunity for unfair treatment increases. That’s exactly the historical process that Stuart was describing.

But the opportunity for fair treatment by strangers increases also, and that effect seems to predominate. So people exposed to economic transactions with strangers become more rather than less likely to treat strangers fairly and ethically.

The idea that dealing with people you don’t know in a market economy makes it more likely you’ll get screwed and view strangers with suspicion is not unreasonable on the face of it but, fortunately, it’s wrong — that’s not what happens.

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Substance McGravitas 08.16.10 at 11:11 pm

Or is Annals of Statistics too shabby a journal for you to bother with?

I’d read that paper closely if I were you. Or maybe I wouldn’t read that paper closely if I were you.

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John Quiggin 08.16.10 at 11:59 pm

mw & Myles, if you accuse me of caricature, you only have to look at “libertarian”, faithfully spouting the latest delusionist talking point on climate change, and implicitly conceding that the reality of climate science would render her version of libertarianism untenable. Unfortunately, libertarian is far closer to the norm for self-proclaimed libertarians than is, say, Jacob Levy.

For anyone who’s still following, this is yet another round in the long-running dispute over the trivial side issue of how sure we are that temperatures around 1300 were lower than they are today. The authors of the current paper accuse climate scientists of over-confidence on this, but conclude that the data supports a probability of around 80 per cent. But, even if we didn’t have any data at all on this, the evidence of global warming over the past century would be unquestionable.

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mw 08.17.10 at 12:06 am

I mean, I would love to live in a world in which no one steals from one another or drives recklessly. But since I don’t, I have to put up with prisons and speeding tickets. If Libertarianism can’t even solve these kinds of petty issues. If Libertarianism can’t even solve these kinds of petty issues, it will never be able to solve larger issues like ACME dumping toxic sludge in the nearest barrio, or even making sure crack babies get a proper education.

Huh? Theft is a criminal matter–no libertarians are not against criminal justice systems. So the solution for dealing with thieves is the same. As for reckless driving and toxic dumping, criminal law and tort (which libertarians would prefer) are better solutions than detailed regulations — especially for the latter given the inevitability and ubiquity of regulatory capture. Far better to require that drivers and businesses involved in potentially hazardous activities carry sufficient insurance to cover potential damage. That provides powerful incentives to both the drivers and business (to keep rates low) and the insurance company (to keep payouts low) to minimize the risks.

A real life example is private fire insurance / fire fighting in California. The insurance company is strongly motivated to provide expert advice in making homes and landscaping fire-resistant and also in providing timely fire fighting services. It’s all a much more effective combination (in terms of likelihood of a house going up in flames) than government-provided fire fighting.

Educating crack babies? Hell, how about just educating normal babies? Or are you really arguing that statist approaches to K-12 schooling have that whole education problem solved?!? Is that a ‘mission accomplished’ situation?

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Doctor Science 08.17.10 at 12:10 am

Gareth Rees @94:

arrgh, yes! the shame, the shame! The problem was that I was mentally translating from “Pa”.

mw @95:

I wasn’t clear in my retelling of the scene in The Long Winter. The citizens weren’t originally “threatening to take their business elsewhere”, they were getting ready to use (well-armed) mob violence. Pa Ingalls talked them down to threatening a boycott, and got the storekeeper to agree he didn’t want it to come to that — but the real alternative, not discussed explicitly, was violent robbery and/or lynching. They may not have had *state-level* coercion, but guns there were a-plenty — courts and prisons would have been much nicer and less bluntly coercive.

123

Robert 08.17.10 at 12:12 am

I don’t think of Greg Mankiw as a libertarian. He is, however, a fool and a liar. Almost everything in intro textbooks in economics is wrong.

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mw 08.17.10 at 12:12 am

How can you read something like this and think what we really need is more/bigger/more powerful government?

http://reason.com/archives/2010/08/16/the-governments-license-to-ste

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Metamorf 08.17.10 at 12:21 am

… you only have to look at “libertarian”, faithfully spouting the latest delusionist talking point on climate change, and implicitly conceding that the reality of climate science would render her version of libertarianism untenable.

Well, and then we have John, faithfully spouting the latest true believer line on climate change, implicitly conceding that its falsification would render his version of socialism anti-capitalism untenable. So it goes.

But, as he says, for anyone still interested, here’s a link to a series that looks at why, regardless of the how the true climate science shakes out, the latest proposals re: carbon reduction at the present time are likely a mistake.

126

sg 08.17.10 at 12:35 am

MylesSG, first thing I found on the cato website about global warming is here, and it’s a nasty little rant accepting all the claims of those who attacked Mann et al on the basis of climategate, with this charming line:

First, it is fantasy for crusaders to claim that catastrophic global warming is established science

I think it’s amusing in a thread full of claims that critics of libertarianism are arguing with imaginary libertarian caricatures, that the likes of Jacob Levy, yourself and Brett Bellmore, in defending libertarianism, have to ignore the vast majority of its substance. You’re defending a mythical construct, the libertarian who honestly appraises economic and scientific arguments from a critical ideological framework. The rest of us are talking about the reality: ideological bootboys for the rich.

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John Quiggin 08.17.10 at 12:56 am

Metamorf @125 I wasn’t sure whether to take you seriously, but you’ve resolved the problem for me.

mw, would you care to state a position on climate science? It’s pretty much a test case for the caricature version of libertarianism.

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Metamorf 08.17.10 at 1:09 am

mw, would you care to state a position on climate science? It’s pretty much a test case for the caricature version of libertarianism.

Always amusing to see the would-be heresy hunters coming up with their “test-cases”, isn’t it? What is it, john — unless we repent, the end is nigh?

fwiw, here’s what I said some days ago, in one of the links I referred to above:

“The point here, as the previous post tried to make clear, isn’t that AGW isn’t happening — it probably is. The point is simply that the certainties of costs and the uncertainties of benefits from proposed carbon emission reduction schemes make the drive to implement them inexplicable on a rational basis.”

129

Robert Waldmann 08.17.10 at 1:12 am

I was waiting for “enough and as good” (OK I was hoping to introduce it in comments although I should have known better). I will defend Jefferson relative to Locke. Locke’s enough and as good was a fantasy when and where he wrote it. Jefferson knew very well that his Republic was very very bad news for Native Americans. I think he clearly recognised the moral unnacceptability of forcible expansion (as he undoubtably recognised the moral unnacceptability of slavery). Of course he accepted both, but, at least he knew he was betraying his principles.

130

John Quiggin 08.17.10 at 1:13 am

@metamorf As Tyler Cowen has pointed out (and any other competent economist would confirm) you have your analysis backwards. Uncertainty about the median projection of global warming increases the expected net benefits of action. Google it.

131

Myles SG 08.17.10 at 1:14 am

The rest of us are talking about the reality: ideological bootboys for the rich.

But that’s a bit curious. In case you haven’t noticed, “green”/environmental movements and demands tend to benefit people who are already privileged: the educated, culturally upper-middle-class, broadly liberal person.

132

Myles SG 08.17.10 at 1:17 am

There’s also a disconnect between self-identified libertarians and the influence of libertarianism in aggregate in public policy. Libertarianism has been rather influential ever since Carter’s deregulatory decrees (and Thatcher’s advisor, Sir Keith Joseph), but libertarian self-identification, as far as I am aware of, has not increased as much.

133

sg 08.17.10 at 1:31 am

No MylesSG, I hadn’t noticed actually. Are you suggesting that the average Bangladeshi will benefit less from AGW remediation (they retain their home and farmland) than the average rich westerner, for whom life proceeds roughly the same?

If you restrict your definition of environmental demands to a few western clean air cases, then yes, you’re right. But the big modern problems – recycling and resource reuse, global warming, desertification, habitat loss – are much more an issue in poor nations. You don’t often see British people losing their homes and children to catastrophic mudslides, or Japanese exposed to toxic residue from discarded PCs.

This is another example of attacking a negative caricature of a movement (greenies) while simultaneously defending an unrealistically positive caricature of a movement (libertarians).

134

Eli 08.17.10 at 1:40 am

Huh? Theft is a criminal matter—no libertarians are not against criminal justice systems. So the solution for dealing with thieves is the same.
Wait a second, MW, you mean I have to pay someone my hard earned money to go around protecting you because you can’t protect yourself? I’m being facetious, obviously. But hopefully you’ll see the dillema I’m trying to point out. That is we all have different ideas about what we ought to be doing for our fellow man.

I used the examples I did to illustrate that human nature is flawed and we will always need a strong state to ensure the public good. We will need prison guards, librarians, park landscapers, street cleaners, police officers, etc. Libertarianism doesn’t look at each of these problems and ask itself “by what structure can we best provide that good?” It instead first assumes that government shouldn’t be involved, and then – if we’re lucky – tries to argue for some alternative arrangement, which is almost always either woefully inadequate or simply crazy.

The spirit of my post was basically: this is the real world, not a game. How are you going to make sure all of these things that we as a society want to have happen under your system? If the state isn’t paying for crack babies – or normal ones – to get educated, who is? There are just a vast variety of services that libertarians take for granted that will not get done by the private market. The question is then whether you’re OK with that, and I think a lot of libertarians are, at which point most people say they’re crazy. And if you aren’t OK with that, then you need to explain how these things are going to happen in a serious way.

And you can’t seriously be proposing that a tort system is going to keep people from polluting? For starters someone has to write the laws. And you’re already screwed there because the capture has begun. So your solution is to keep the laws vague. Somehow that doesn’t sound like a very serious libertarian platform. “More Regulation – But Keep It Vague!” You either agree with the concept that the people, through the state, have the right to regulate or you do not. Tell me if I’m wrong, but conservatives and libertarians generally argue the latter, not simply a “better version” of the former.

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Brett Bellmore 08.17.10 at 1:43 am

Seth, I’m quite familiar with that Stross essay, and it may surprise you, (Though it shouldn’t, given all I’ve said here.) that I find nothing in it to disagree with. Stross is quite right that, under current circumstances, space can not function as a frontier. He also identifies the sort of technological advances which would be necessary for it to so function.

I fully expect they’ll be achieved someday. Regrettably, I expect I’ll be long dead by then. In case you somehow failed to notice, I’m not claiming that you could, today, found a ‘libertopia’ in space. In fact, I thought I’d been clear that I don’t think you could found one anywhere.

That’s why most libertarians see an incremental approach in an existing state as the only way to go. It IS the only way to go, right now.

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Myles SG 08.17.10 at 1:52 am

This is another example of attacking a negative caricature of a movement (greenies) while simultaneously defending an unrealistically positive caricature of a movement (libertarians).

I was trying to refute your logical connexion between Cato being “bootboys for the rich” and their ambivalence and silliness on climate change. My point was that environmental-friendly legislation and measures tend not to hurt the rich, and so people who advocate for the rich should not be opposed to climate change measures.

Whether the distribution of benefits favours the Western rich or the Bengladeshis more is quite another matter, and one that is beyond my concern.

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sg 08.17.10 at 2:12 am

See you’re still at it! Characterizing obvious shilling as “ambivalence and silliness.”

Whether or not environmentally-friendly legislation hurts the rich, the libertarian bovverboys certainly think it does, and their strident arguments against it – which largely consist of sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming “lalalala” – make pretty clear evidence of their real ideological mission, which is to defend the privileges of their rich masters.

I’ve yet to see defenders of libertarian ideals come up with a single convincing argument (or, mostly, any argument) in defense of libertarian truculence over AGW, and their obvious complicity with (and involvement from the start in) Big Tobacco’s attacks on epidemiologists, climate scientists, etc. Until someone can find a way to defend the public morals of this, I think the rest of us are entitled to characterise libertarians as a bunch of reckless shills.

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Metamorf 08.17.10 at 2:14 am

John (130): Uncertainty about the median projection of global warming increases the expected net benefits of action.

I notice you don’t say what action, how much of an action, or when. No matter. I wasn’t referring to “uncertainty about the median projection of global warming”, except in a small sense. The primary uncertainties involve the actual net costs of the warming, the actual costs of efforts to mitigate now through carbon emission reduction, the actual costs to reduce global emissions enough to have a serious impact on climate change (which Kyoto, for example, does not), the actual likelihood of being able to sustain those reductions globally through economic upheavals, over a very long time period, even as most of the world is still industrializing, and the comparative costs of alternative approaches, including adaptation, carbon capture and sequestration, and/or geo-engineering. And the uncertainties surrounding that last point are hugely magnified when we look at the long time frames involved.

Given all that, an attempt to leap into one particular approach to the problem immediately, especially one with such faint hope of real, long-term success, looks not just premature, but suspiciously like something based more upon a political agenda than upon reason — an observation supported, I might add, by the opening paragraph of your own 2008 paper on this: http://www.eap-journal.com.au/download.php?file=672

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lemuel pitkin 08.17.10 at 2:44 am

Uncertainty about the median projection of global warming increases the expected net benefits of action.

John you might appreciate this bit from Keynes, which I came across the other day while looking for something else. It’s from a 1942 letter to Harry Hopkins, discussing whether the goal of postwar currency arrangements should be basically a patched-up version of the prewar status quo, or a radical departure.

“You make me feel again what I have felt so often in the last twenty-five years: how fearfully and dangerously rash you cautious people are! Time after time during my active years the authorities have gone bald-headed straight into plainly evident perils, because (so they argued) it would have been incautious to adopt constructive measures or to do anything worth mentioning until after we knew for certain what we were in for. Time after time what I wanted to see done has happened in the end, but only after great misfortunes. Must this always be so?”

140

Ebenezer Scrooge 08.17.10 at 3:06 am

FWIW, southern slavery was not the only agricultural aristocracy in the US. There was also the patroon system of upstate New York. It was on the way out in the early 19th century, but it is worth noting that it coexisted with the frontier. Of course, militarily effective hostile Indians might have had something to do with this until 1763 or thereabouts.

141

Myles SG 08.17.10 at 3:17 am

and their obvious complicity with (and involvement from the start in) Big Tobacco’s attacks on epidemiologists

I should say this is one hundred per cent justified, as the anti-smoking campaign has long ceased to be a health mission, and instead turned into a disgusting cesspool for Puritanical moralists to expel their excess zealotry and energies. Anti-smoking has long crossed the border from nanny state to tyranny state.

I am personally disgusted in the extreme by militant nonsmokers. They are probably no better, and probably more vile, than Prohibitionists.

142

Substance McGravitas 08.17.10 at 3:36 am

Anti-smoking has long crossed the border from nanny state to tyranny state.

Tyranny in the Democrats=Nazis sense of not actually tyranny at all?

143

sg 08.17.10 at 3:50 am

and so it goes… see how little we have to scratch the surface to discover that libertarians and their defenders are ideological bovverboys?

You think it’s okay for a company selling a toxic product to pay people secretly to smear those who say its cancerous, to attack other political movements (e.g. AGW) to poison the well, again secretly, to attack the WHO and other international health bodies (again, using money given to them in secret) and to create a complex international propaganda smokescreen over a variety of public health issues (e.g. malaria control), all funded and coordinated secretly, just to protect its profits?

It’s okay for libertarians to shill on these companies’ behalf, using money they don’t declare, in the press? And to lobby for governments to undermine the WHO’s mission so that those companies can sell their products unfettered in the third world?

And it’s the tobacco control lobby who are the “disgusting cesspool”?

144

novakant 08.17.10 at 4:56 am

And it’s the tobacco control lobby who are the “disgusting cesspool”?

Well, it’s a bit like Hitler vs Stalin.

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sg 08.17.10 at 5:02 am

if Hitler were a puppy

146

lemuel pitkin 08.17.10 at 5:11 am

and Stalin was one of these.

147

sg 08.17.10 at 6:20 am

ah the many segmented beast of international socialism.

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Ollie 08.17.10 at 11:22 am

There is no possible libertopia. The only value of libertarianism is as a critique to state power, and as a check to constraining individual liberty in search of ‘the common good’. Beyond that, actual practising libertarians are just a bunch of comfortable guys who really worship money, are confused about Economics, and really value intellectual masturbation.

I very much believe that what’s called libertarianism in America is the actual concretisation of ‘classical liberalism’. At some point classical liberalism had to face up to the great importance of social welfare and general welfare, and by taking it on board, social democracy/liberalism/insert name here makes classical liberalism applicable not only in 17th century Western society but in a very universal way across epochs and cultures.

149

libertarian 08.17.10 at 12:28 pm

For anyone who’s still following, this is yet another round in the long-running dispute over the trivial side issue of how sure we are that temperatures around 1300 were lower than they are today. The authors of the current paper accuse climate scientists of over-confidence on this, but conclude that the data supports a probability of around 80 per cent. But, even if we didn’t have any data at all on this, the evidence of global warming over the past century would be unquestionable.

Ah no. This supposedly “trivial” side issue was a front-page scare graph on IPCC reports and press-releases everywhere for years. The latest Mannian pile of garbage is referenced in the first highlighted box in the recent Australian Academy of Science alarmist report. Those who pointed out the problems (eg Steve McIntyre) were vilified by the professional climate science community and their cheersquad (eg quiggin). Well, McIntyre was right. Quiggin and cohorts were 100% wrong.

Are you now taking 80% as your level of statistical significance quiggin? If that’s the standard in economics it would explain a lot. Besides, you might want to read the paper more carefully: the authors point out the proxy records are incapable of capturing large derivatives in the temperature series, so even that 80% is an overestimate.

The climate science community closed ranks behind the hockeystick authors. These are the same guys who came up with “hide the decline” which is another way of saying “hide the fact that the proxies don’t capture large derivatives”. These guys do not know how to estimate uncertainty. They have similar problems with their climate models. At least some honest and competent scientists are now in the process of unraveling all the unsupported claims, so we can get to the bottom of what we actually know, versus what has been grossly distorted by those pushing a specific policy agenda.

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Barry 08.17.10 at 12:32 pm

“Mannian pile of garbage ” = ‘the guy who has been disturbingly correct’.

151

libertarian 08.17.10 at 12:33 pm

libertarianism in America is the actual concretisation of ‘classical liberalism’

Exactly Ollie. There are also dogmatic ideological libertarians, but they are a fringe. Modern-day American liberals bear almost no resemblance to the classical counterparts, fueled as they are by snark, entitlement mentality, and a fundamental belief that anyone who works hard and improves their lot in life must have done so at the expense of someone else. To all those liberals who see life as a zero-sum game, I ask you one thing: how come were all still not scratching around in caves?

152

Barry 08.17.10 at 12:34 pm

Or were you attempting to provide an example of what Substance McGravitas was saying?

153

libertarian 08.17.10 at 12:39 pm

Barry @150: read the paper. Mann was wrong. Of course we already knew that, but now it’s been published in Annals of Statistics, the alarmists have to change tack (note quiggin now wants it to be a “trivial” side issue. Whatever – reminds me of the way my 4yo behaves when caught out, only he’s cute with it). The Annals of Statistics paper references several publications of McIntyre, who has been continuously denigrated by quiggin. So quiggin was also wrong on McIntyre. Time to wake up.

A Statistical Analysis of Multiple Temperature Proxies: Are Reconstructions of Surface Temperatures Over the Last 1000 Years Reliable?

154

libertarian 08.17.10 at 12:42 pm

I read the paper. If Substance McGravitas has a point he should make it. That paper is very damning.

155

Ollie 08.17.10 at 1:26 pm

libertarian,

I apologise.

That sentence should have read; “I very much believe that what’s called liberalism in America is the actual concretisation of ‘classical liberalism”.

156

indregard 08.17.10 at 1:33 pm

Iceland is actually the libertopia you are looking for. It was unsettled until local Norwegian petty-kings settled Iceland from about 875 and on, disgruntled and oppressed by Harald Fairhair, whose ambition was the gathering of all the Norwegian petty kingdoms under his own crown.

Once at Iceland, these nobility families divided the de facto unlimited land between them and organized themselves with a democratic assembly (with asterisks regarding slaves, women and children). That would truly be libertopia: enough land for everyone, no real political hierarchy and so on and so forth. Even so, the poor agricultural quality of the land introduces a kind of border.

Then, in 1226 (I think), Iceland submitted to the Norwegian throne, and later the Norwegian throne submitted to the Danish. No more libertopia for the icelandic nobility; the idea of absolute monarchy was about to wash across Europe…

157

libertarian 08.17.10 at 1:38 pm

Oh well, then I thoroughly disagree with you Ollie. There’s very little that’s “liberal” anymore about American liberals. Yeah, they’re for gay marriage and legalized pot. But when it comes to liberty that actually affects people, like not having 60% of your marginal income confiscated at gunpoint by the state, they’re the biggest authoritarians of all.

158

Ollie 08.17.10 at 2:19 pm

They just don’t consider it a confiscation, they call it paying your fair share of running a functional society. One of the underappreciated reasons poor countries are poor is that they don’t bother to collect taxes.

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ajay 08.17.10 at 2:29 pm

157: your somewhat restrictive definition of “people” is duly noted.

160

libertarian 08.17.10 at 2:44 pm

Another reason poor countries are poor is they diminish reward for risk-taking behavior beyond the point of profitable return. American liberalism is not about paying one’s far share: it is based on envy. Those who never take disproportionate risk never receive disproportionate reward and resent those who do.

161

Guido 08.17.10 at 2:45 pm

Nozickian libertarianism does differ from Locke’s earlier form, slightly. The hypocrite Locke justified the imperialist seizure of native lands. Under Nozicktopia, it’s more like the benevolent capitalist obtains the land from the natives for a few cartloads of baubles and beads, and then rents out parcels to them.

162

Ollie 08.17.10 at 2:55 pm

Those who never take disproportionate risk never receive disproportionate reward and resent those who do.

Taxes have existed for only what? 10,000 years, and people are still taking risks and getting rewards.

To frame it as a risk-reward issue has to be easily the weakest argument against paying taxes.

163

Myles SG 08.17.10 at 2:57 pm

I don’t think you guys understand how just irritating it is for people who smoke to have all that moralistic antismoking bullshit shoved in their face. I honestly have had no end of people telling me somehow I am morally decrepit for smoking, and I am honestly sick of it.

Frankly, given how idiotic and Puritanical the antismoking lobby is (scratch the surface and they are the exact same type that agitated for Prohibition and Temperance and working-women’s-hostels and all that bullshit), I am inclined to just punch them in the face.

In Canada, cigarettes can’t even be displayed in the store counter. Taxes on cigarettes are seventy percent. A pack of the premiums I smoke cost $11.

It’s honestly tyrannical. Of course, not Hitler-tyrannical, but tyrannical in the oppressing-minority-who-are-smokers sense.

164

bianca steele 08.17.10 at 3:04 pm

Dr Science@122
In more adult literature, that kind of threat of violence tends to be framed as a conflict between the city and the country. I don’t remember much about the city at all in the Little House books (though were the Wilders town boys?). Framing a conflict in a standard ways allows the author to tap into existing discourse on the topic, automatically. I would think this is hardly appropriate in a kids’ book, but would have allowed Wilder a more nuanced discussion of the issues.

165

engels 08.17.10 at 3:14 pm

Myles, you really do have all the perspective on life of a 13-year-old who’s just been grounded, don’t you?

166

sg 08.17.10 at 3:20 pm

libertarian, just a little FYI: the paper has been submitted to the Annals of Applied Statistics. It might help you to get the details of its publication status and journal correct. Also, there’s a small issue of their use of hemispheric data; there’s some discussion to be had about whether the lasso is the correct technique for sorting out large numbers of correlated variables, as opposed to small numbers of collinear variables; and there’s a bit of discussion going on about whether or not their results actually change anything.

Myles SG, has it ever occurred to you that non-smokers don’t like it when smokers shove their smoke in our faces? Particularly given it’s, you know, cancerous and all (but even besides that, the fact that it’s really annoying and stinky and makes your eyes bleed is also a bit of a problem).

Oh, and “I hate you and I want to punch you” isn’t an argument with much public policy weight. But it makes some points about how libertarians really think!

167

zamfir 08.17.10 at 3:32 pm

My little nephew is tyrannical too, of course not in the Hitler-tyrannical sense but in the doesn’t-like-to-eat-lettuce sense.

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Myles SG 08.17.10 at 3:41 pm

Myles, you really do have all the perspective on life of a 13-year-old who’s just been grounded, don’t you?

I am not aware that the default mode in dealing with adult citizens who choose to smoke is the same as one used in dealing with 13-year olds, unless you are excessively fond of the nanny state.

Seriously, of course I am pissed. Because the antismoking killjoys and Calvinists are treating everybody like 13-year olds.

169

libertarian 08.17.10 at 3:42 pm

libertarian, just a little FYI: the paper has been submitted to the Annals of Applied Statistics. It might help you to get the details of its publication status and journal correct.

It has been accepted sg. Go to the journal home page and click on “next issues”. The lasso is nonparametric – it doesn’t matter whether the variables are “correlated” vs “collinear”. But in a sense you are right – this changes nothing. Everyone outside the closed circle-jerk of climate science already knew the hockeystick claims were bogus. However, now with publication in a serious statistical journal, those inside the circle must finally pay attention, or risk even further degradation of their professional credibility (if that is even possible at this point).

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sg 08.17.10 at 3:48 pm

so if you smoke around me, Myles SG, can I punch you? Is that the libertarian deal?

171

ajay 08.17.10 at 4:01 pm

I think that by smoking around you, Myles is initiating force. So go right ahead.

(Alternatively, you can sue him.)

172

libertarian 08.17.10 at 4:03 pm

Taxes have existed for only what? 10,000 years, and people are still taking risks and getting rewards.

I am not arguing against all taxation Oliie. Just disproportionate levels of taxation that support a bloated bureaucracy and entitlement state. Taxes may well have existed for more than 10,000 years but government in the US now absorbs far more of economic output than at any time in history barring WWII. It is time for another revolution my friend: this time against taxation without justification. I simply cannot wait for November 2nd.

173

yeliabmit 08.17.10 at 4:05 pm

“…antismoking killjoys…”

Yeah, like those impaired driving killjoys or industrial pollution killjoys. There’s nothing like the joy of imposing negative externalities.

174

bianca steele 08.17.10 at 4:05 pm

That libertarians emphasize tort law as a recourse against corruption is amusing if true given the Republican position on limiting access to the courts, and also this.

175

libertarian 08.17.10 at 4:13 pm

Where are the negative externalities of smoking yeliabmit? I doubt Myles puffs in your face. And if he does succeed in killing himself young it is a cheap death that saves the state a lot of money in old-age healthcare.

176

Doctor Science 08.17.10 at 4:55 pm

bianca steele @163:

One reason I cite The Long Winter rather than “more adult books” is because it is often more honest, not so tied into the cliches of the discourse.

At this point in Laura’s life *no-one* is “the city”, they are all “the country”. The storekeeper is the closest thing to “the city”, because he’s the conduit of many of the goods that come into town, but almost all the farmers are living in town for the winter, because the claims are not even close to self-supporting. Simply put, there is very little food outside of the town, and certainly no surplus food.

Ingalls, the Wilder boys, and the rest think of themselves as free and independent farmer-entrepreneurs, but their venture capital (the land) comes from the government, and they can only succeed by supplying and being supplied by the national market via the (government-sponsored) railroad.

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Jerry Vinokurov 08.17.10 at 6:17 pm

McShane and Wyner explicitly acknowledge that paleoclimate reconstructions are only one of the branches of evidence for AGW. Even if they are correct, something that I’m not qualified to evaluate, there are many independent roads to AGW that are not tied to paleoclimate reconstructions.

178

roac 08.17.10 at 6:30 pm

Does being as offensive as humanly possible immunize a person from being banned because of over-backward-bending on the part of the thread owner? Talk about perverse incentives . . .

179

libertarian 08.17.10 at 6:38 pm

there are many independent roads to AGW that are not tied to paleoclimate reconstructions.

True, but those roads are paved by the same kind of people responsible for the paleoclimate debacle. They all grossly underestimate uncertainty. Next to fall will be the climate modelers.

Just to be clear: AGW is real. What is not real is the case for alarm. It all comes down to climate sensitivity, and at present the evidence is very much against a high sensitivity.

180

novakant 08.17.10 at 6:43 pm

As it happens the first full-blown anti-smoking campaign was launched by the Nazis”.

Democracy isn’t supposed to be the dictatorship of the majority, but requires tolerance towards non-conformist behaviour, even if you don’t like it.

There is no reason whatsoever why adults shouldn’t be able to congregate in designated public places to smoke and have a good time. Nobody would be harmed unduly if, say, 20% of bars and clubs got a smoking license, just as there are some establishments that are licensed to serve unlimited amounts of alcohol, stay open till 6am or play music at volumes that would make anybody here go insane.

When it comes to alcohol or air pollution through vehicle emissions we accept no limits whatsoever and there would be a major outcry if people’s rights were restricted in this regard, because the majority drinks and drives – smoking has simply become an easy target simply because of its minority status.

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michael e sullivan 08.17.10 at 7:02 pm

MylesSG’s reactions to anti-smoking, and especially Libertarian @174 serve as beautiful demonstrations of Clay’s claim @ 17.

Even when you scratch a superficially reasonable libertarian like Myles, it’s very common to suddenly find that:

“negative externalities from me to other people are merely figments of whining losers”

182

F 08.17.10 at 7:09 pm

“but government in the US now absorbs far more of economic output than at any time in history barring WWII”

Technically true (omitting the word “far”), but misleading. Total government expenditures as a percentage of GDP has hovered between 29 and 33 % since 1968. In 2009, this jumped to 36%.

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lemuel pitkin 08.17.10 at 7:10 pm

The reality is that smoking was formerly seen as a private act, but is increasingly seen as a public one. You can lament this fact, but to base your argument on the idea that smoking is inherently private is begging the question (in the old sense). The main reason shift is presumably the movement of questions of health generally into the public sphere; in the case of smoking in particular, improved air quality, especially indoors, must play a role too: When you aren’t breathing lots of particulates anyway, the costs of smoking are going to be greater, and more noticeable.

As an empirical matter, it was never the case that your smoking only affected you. People’s decisions to start or stop smoking are powerfully affected by whether other people smoke. (Grown-ups know this.) We used to consider smoking private in the sense that, for purposes of law and morality, it wasn’t part of causal chains extending beyond the person. But that was always a social-political convention, not a fact about the world.

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michael e sullivan 08.17.10 at 7:20 pm

Novokant: in practice, nearly every bar and club would want a smoking license, because smoking has been traditional in bars, despite that a large share of the patrons would have always preferred a non-smoking environment.

If, in twenty or thirty years the smoking ban in public places were repealed, I predict a fair number of bars would keep their non-smoking policies, but without them, there was a significant coordinated action problem. If my bar bans smoking indoors, something upwards of 50% of my smoking customers will go down the street to the guy who doesn’t along with a few of their non-smoking friends.. That’s a certain and very immediate loss. I will probably start getting more customers who hear about my ban and like it, but that will take a while (during which time I’m losing money), and is more uncertain. Most bar owners decided not to risk banning smoking, or opening a new bar that disallowed it. If I could guarantee that potential customers who would prefer a non-smoking bar would all hear about my new rule without having to spend a huge amount of time and money advertising it, I’d be much more likely to implement it.

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Jerry Vinokurov 08.17.10 at 7:58 pm

True, but those roads are paved by the same kind of people responsible for the paleoclimate debacle. They all grossly underestimate uncertainty. Next to fall will be the climate modelers.

I don’t see how one gets this from the article. If you read it carefully (which is hard and takes a long time because it’s a technical article of 40+ pages) they’re very careful about what kinds of conclusions they draw from this work. Nor do I see how you get the supposed demise of climate models from this either.

186

Seth Gordon 08.17.10 at 8:10 pm

Were I a legislator, I would be happy to allow any bar or restaurant to permit its patrons to smoke, on the condition that its employees, while on duty, wore breathing apparatus appropriate for an environment filled with carcinogenic fumes.

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lemuel pitkin 08.17.10 at 8:18 pm

Seth Gordon-

You may not be aware the that New York City anti-smoking ordinance had a very similar provision: smoking continued to be allowed in bars and restaurants, provided it was limited to a separately-ventilated space that employees did not enter.

This turned out to be a dead letter, since the city law was quickly superseded by a state law with no such exception. (To the chagrin of bar and restaurant owners who’d already invested in separate ventilation systems for their smoking areas.) Incidentally, it’s always struck me as funny that Mayor Bloomberg is so strongly associated in the public mind with the New York smoking ban, when then-governor Pataki, who was instrumental in passing the even stricter state law, never has been.

188

libertarian 08.17.10 at 8:26 pm

I don’t see how one gets this from the article.

My claim doesn’t come from the article. It comes from reading widely the original literature in climate science. The alarmist claims are invariably borne out of a gross underestimation of uncertainty. The hockeystick is simply the most visible (and now the most well-debunked) example. It has taken more than a decade to finally expose this in a way that even the most cynical alarmists cannot readily dismiss. Hopefully it will not take as long to bring their other exaggerated claims to heel.

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Myles SG 08.17.10 at 10:42 pm

Even when you scratch a superficially reasonable libertarian like Myles, it’s very common to suddenly find that:

“negative externalities from me to other people are merely figments of whining losers”

Look. High tobacco taxes to pay for health externalities in terms of additional healthcare costs. I get it (although it’s highly dubious, as smokers die earlier and thus in net save the health system money). But honestly, you couldn’t display packs of cigarettes in a bloody convenience store in Canada. They have to be hidden. This is ridiculous in part because it’s obviously impracticable for me to query the clerk whether they have this or that brand of cigarettes, every single time (especially if you are making multiple queries, and the are people queuing up behind you).

I mean, forcing stores to hide their cigarettes is an act of pure and vile moralistic zealotry. It’s no different from Temperance or sheer, disgusting Puritanism. Again, I have no patience for militant antismokers, and wish them the utmost enjoyment of second-hand smoke as a sort of cosmic desert for their vile Puritanism. I am sure Dante has make space in his circles of hell for militant antismokers.

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g 08.17.10 at 11:08 pm

When it comes to alcohol or air pollution through vehicle emissions we accept no limits whatsoever

Last time I checked, vehicle emissions were in fact limited in all sorts of ways. So is alcohol production, distribution, and consumption.

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John Protevi 08.17.10 at 11:50 pm

I mean, forcing stores to hide their cigarettes is an act of pure and vile moralistic zealotry.

No it’s not, it’s a matter of “choice architecture,” or whatever new name the Nudge types have come up with.

Again, I have no patience for militant antismokers, and wish them the utmost enjoyment of second-hand smoke as a sort of cosmic desert for their vile Puritanism.

Lighten up, Francis.

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 12:08 am

I mean, forcing stores to hide their cigarettes is an act of pure and vile moralistic zealotry.

No it’s not, it’s a matter of “choice architecture,” or whatever new name the Nudge types have come up with.

But wouldn’t that be “anti-choice architecture”? In any case, I’m just not clear how a euphemism improves reality. Or is that just more of that “nudging”? I thought we frowned upon that sort of coercive behavior on the part of emergent institutions, John (nudge, nudge, wink, wink ;-)

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bianca steele 08.18.10 at 12:51 am

Doctor Science @ 175:

The political aspects of the incident are definitely interesting, but so are the way Pa Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder are shown to be paragons among men. The “libertarian character” that’s been mentioned in this thread. Even though Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn’t mention the city, many readers likely read the book as claiming greater moral virtue for the farms and small towns of the American West, and corresponding moral depravity for people who live on the coasts (especially the East Coast) and in cities (especially northeastern cities)–similar to the way midwesterners now sometimes pretend they are widely viewed as good only to be “flown over.”

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John Protevi 08.18.10 at 1:25 am

MM, I wasn’t endorsing the Thaler and Sunstein concept, I was mentioning it as a way to snark at the unhinged Myles. T and S’s line is that with choice architecture consumer choice is preserved: the state does not prohibit cigarettes. Now you can say they coerce store owners, and you’d be correct. But they claim their scheme preserves consumer choice. The book is here if you’re interested. I couldn’t tell from your comment whether your know of it or not. If you know it already, sorry.

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sg 08.18.10 at 2:46 am

I really don’t get the ignorance about smoking, and these stupid questions about negative externalities.

Here’s your negative externality: when I go to a bar full of smokers, my eyes hurt, my clothes stink, I cough and splutter, if I have a cold it is worsened and becomes horrible, and I am exposed to a carcinogen. It doesn’t matter whether you blow it in my face or in the air. I don’t care about all the economic negative externalities – I’m talking about a minority of people in the bar ruining my experience of a night out so they can do something completely voluntary.

The libertarian view of this seems to consist entirely of : fuck off. What am I meant to do, walk up to every single person in the bar and ask them to stop smoking?

The hilarious thing is that if I walked into a bar, wandered up to the nearest smoker, and put something in his eyes, it would be seen as violence. But that same person can sit there doing it to everyone else in the room and it’s okay.

Smoking is not a private activity, it is not a private choice unless you do it on your own, so don’t whine when, after invading other peoples’ space with your publicly offensive behaviour, people start passing laws to stop you.

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 2:54 am

No, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist a small dig. I do know about it actually and posted a comment on it a little while back: “‘Nudging’ and sneaky authoritarianism“. (Myles does seem a little hot about this issue, which obviously hits him harder than a non-smoker like me.)

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 3:03 am

I’m talking about a minority of people in the bar ruining my experience of a night out so they can do something completely voluntary.

Isn’t your going to the bar — that bar in particular — completely voluntary? Why not just not go, or not go to that one if you don’t like it?

Smoking is not a private activity….

What is? We’re affected by everything people do. What if I’m offended by your choice of clothes — they make my eyes hurt, they give me nightmares, they affect my own fashion sense, etc. Can I pass laws that impose my style on you?

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sg 08.18.10 at 3:29 am

ah, so the libertarian solution to a minority of people ruining the majority’s fun is that the majority should just not go out.

So when I want to see a band from overseas – here once a year, one performance – I have to tolerate your stinking smoke, rather than being able to ask you to smoke outside or wait a few hours?

And no, my clothes don’t hurt your eyes, don’t be so stupidly juvenile.

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 3:54 am

But you’re not “the majority”, are you? And how do you get to decide what hurts my eyes? Can I decide what stinks?

Of course there is that famous “band from overseas, here once a year, one performance” problem — what if we just ask them to do two performances, one for most people, and one for those with extra-sensitive noses?

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lemuel pitkin 08.18.10 at 4:18 am

sg-

I don’t disagree with you, really, but it’s just not true that the major externality from smoking is stinky clothes. The major externality from smoking is that it encourages other people to smoke.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.18.10 at 4:23 am

Libertarian #188: “The alarmist claims are invariably borne out of a gross underestimation of uncertainty.”

–This is upside-down. Given the irrefutable certainties of radiation physics, the great uncertainty in the possible consequences is what is MOST alarming.

Also alarming are the denialists’ lack of systemic thinking and their certitude that mitigation measures will be unduly costly. Well, in the cost-benefits, make sure you include the following:

There was an epochal drought in the 12th century AD western half of the United States — when it may have been only 1 degree C. warmer (the so-called “Medieval Warming Period”, perhaps only a northern hemispheric event). From Six Degrees, by Mark Lynas:

“…between A.D. 1000 and 1300…[when] the old trees in Walker River and Mono Lake were growing. Wildfires had raged in both national parks twice as frequently as before… The area we now call California had in medieval times been hit by a megadrought, lasting at different periods for several decades… …how geographically widespread was this event? Evidence from another lake, far away on the Great Plains of North Dakota… …scientists have now reconstructed long-term records…from old lake sediments. …before A.D. 1200, a series of epic droughts had swept the Great Plains…” (pp. 26-27)

“…the evidence is now overwhelming that what the western United States suffered during this [Medieval] period was not a short-term rainfall deficit but a full-scale mega-drought lasting many decades at least. …the [Colorado] river lost 15 percent of its water during a major drought during the mid-1100s. For 60 years at a time, the river saw nothing but low flows… …the remarkable coincidence of dates with evidence from New Mexico suggests that this was the very same drought that finished off the Chaco Canyon Indians.” (pp.28-29)

“…an immense system of sand dunes that spread across thousands of miles of the Great Plains, from Texas and Oklahoma in the south, right through Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, to as far north as the Canadian prairie states of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. These sand dune systems are currently “stabilized”: by a protective layer of vegtetation, so not even the strongest winds can shift them. But during the Medieval Warm Period…these deserts came alive… People who remember the 1930’s Dust Bowl think they have seen the worst drought nature can offer… In a world that is less than a degree warmer overall, the western United States could once again be plagued by perennial droughts… Although heavier irrigation might stave off the worst for a while, many of the largest aquifers of fossil water are already overexploited…” (pp.29-30)

References:

Stine, S. (1994) “Extreme and Persistent Drought in California and Patagonia during Medieval Time,” NATURE 369: 546-9.

Swetnam, T. (1993) “Fire History and Climate Change in Giant Sequoia Groves,” SCIENCE 262: 885-9.

Laird, K. et.al. (1996) “Greater Drought Frequency and Intensity Before A.D. 1200 in the Northern Great Plains, U.S.A.,” NATURE 384: 552-4.

Meko, D. et al. (2007) “Medieval Drought in the Upper Colorado River Basin,” GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS 34: L10705.

Wolfe, S. et al. (2006) “Holocene Dune Activity and Environmental Change in the Prairie Parkland and Boreal Forest, Central Saskatchewan, Canada,” THE HOLOCENE 16.1: 17-29.

Mangan, J. et al. (2004) “Response of Nebraska Sand Hills Natural Vegetation to Drought, Fire, Grazing, and Functional Type Shifts as Simulated by the Century Model,” CLIMATIC CHANGE 63: 49-90

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tom bach 08.18.10 at 4:26 am

This debate about smoking is just silly. I have smoked for decades and for some subset of those decades worked in a bar. I stand foursquare behind laws limiting smoking in bars and enclosed public spaces more generally. I know of at least one bar owner who welcomed a recent state-wide ban because of reduced maintenance cost, longer periods between ceiling tile changes, and fewer employee complaints about smoke-filled clothing. It sucks, on some level, going outside in the depths of winter to drag deeply if quickly on a ciggie butt. But hey its a small price to pay for the nicely clean air in the bar and for being forced to be polite to the ever-increasing majority of non-smokers. Indeed, currently I go outside to partake even when at home because one small dog and a fellow human don’t while I do smoke. In years gone by my minority would have tyrannized over their majority.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.18.10 at 4:27 am

A possible difference between classical liberals and libertarians is that libertarians think the state can be smaller. If classical liberals such as Locke and Smith were alive today, I doubt they would make that mistake.

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tom bach 08.18.10 at 4:40 am

Speaking of small dogs, an often unremarked improvement in life in general has been the decision to ban dog poop on sidewalks and related areas. I remember in those carefree libertarian days of yesteryore when a walk down the street meant the dodging or failed dodging of nearly limitless piles of dog poop. All hail the tyranny of dog poop free sidewalks.

205

Metamorf 08.18.10 at 4:50 am

This debate about smoking is just silly. I have smoked for decades and for some subset of those decades worked in a bar. I stand foursquare behind laws limiting smoking in bars and enclosed public spaces more generally.

I don’t think it’s silly. I’ve never smoked and I stand just as “foursquare” behind the freedom of bar owners or owners of other enclosed public spaces to decide for themselves whether they’ll permit smoking or not. That one bar owner you know, for example, would obviously find it to his advantage to ban smoking on his own, which is fine. In the same way, it’s fine that you’ve decided to go outside to smoke, a decision that you shouldn’t and didn’t need the state to make for you.

lemuel: The major externality from smoking is that it encourages other people to smoke.

Sort of like the major externality from eating hot dogs is that it encourages others to do the same.

206

John Quiggin 08.18.10 at 5:01 am

Lee @201 You’re right of course, and I made the same point to metamorf upthread.

What’s important here is not the specific errors made by nearly all propertarians on this topic as the combination of groupthink and wishful thinking that it reveals.

In particular, it’s striking that (despite evincing no evidence of even any expertise in statistics) libertarian is pointing to a long and complex paper released on the web only a few days ago as the clinching evidence for her case. To repeat the language of the post, it is no coincidence that this same paper has been exhibit A on delusionist websites for the past week or so. And, of course, Metamorf and Myles SG have indepedently reached the same policy conclusions.

To forestall a repeat of Metamorf’s snark here, this is the exact opposite of the process that has occurred on the pro-science side of the debate. The great majority of environmentalists started out highly suspicious of market mechanisms, and preferring direct regulation. But the overwhelming scientific evidence of the need to do something to mitigate emissions has led most (not all) to abandon their instinctive policy preferences in favor of emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes, both because they seem (or seemed) more likely to be adopted and because the evidence suggested they would be likely to work.

The contrast with the ignorant, anti-intellectual tribalism of the propertarian right could scarcely be sharper.

207

tom bach 08.18.10 at 5:20 am

MM:
I would argue that your are mistaken about not needing the state to create the context within which my going outside to smoke is necessary and reasonable, instead of a manifestation of “vile puritanism.” If, let’s say, the state allowed the on the one hand smoking and second hand smoke cause cancer and on the other a bunch of tobacco industry shills say it doesn’t therefore we won’t insist on warning citizens that smoking and secondary smoke causes cancer, my going outside would be like the little sister’s dad in Chandler’s “Little Sister” smoking an empty pipe, i.e., “vile puritianism.” Once the state acknowledges the scientifically proven fact that smoking and secondary smoking cause cancer the debate moves from “vile puritanism ate my freedom” to reasoned accommodation, smoking sheds, which allow smoker and non to enjoy their (perhaps) god-given, but definitely state-enforced, right to congregate and enjoy the refreshing beverage of their choice.

It’s not like the state insists that, for example, no one wear paisley because it offends the state’s aesthetic sensibility but rather no one is free to endanger another in public which leads, ideally, to reasonable individuals agreeing not to endanger others in private. However, should individuals remain resistant to private endangerment the state acting in the interests of all ought ban private endangerment. That’s right the state can tell you not to smoke in your own home because it endangers the health of others just like the state can ban, via criminalization, child or, for that matter dog, abuse.

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 5:50 am

The contrast with the ignorant, anti-intellectual tribalism of the propertarian right could scarcely be sharper.

Thanks, John, for that model of decorum from the anti-propertarian left.

I certainly agree, though, that the vast majority of environmentalists were ideologically opposed to markets per se, and have only come round to them en masse because they realized they weren’t going to be able to get away with “direct regulation”. How such herd behavior and obvious political opportunism is supposed to contrast with “ignorant, anti-intellectual tribalism” is not clear. And in any case, it looks increasingly like they’re not going to be able to get away with much in the way of carbon taxes either, but that’s another story.

As for the “pro-science side of the debate”, here’s an interesting Dutch paper that suggests that science and politics have become too closely intertwined, on this issue particularly, to the detriment of both. An excerpt:

In the political debate science should play an important yet limited role. The danger lies in scientific knowledge replacing the ethical and political discourse. Democracy morphs then into technocracy – the dictatorship of science.

Politics are about clarifying political values and societal visions and choices, and can therefore never hide behind scientific knowledge. It is important that politics no longer dismiss science as a certainty machine. New scientific knowledge produces new insights, but also more perspective into that which we don’t yet know. It is therefore very questionable whether scientific uncertainty in the climate arena can be reduced at all. Politicians should also be aware of the fact that scientific paradigms can change.

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 5:52 am

PS: the excerpt from the paper extends to the end of the comment (208) — markup got mangled somehow.

210

yeliabmit 08.18.10 at 5:56 am

@sg: “…so they can do something completely voluntary.”

Not meaning to be pedantic (because I agree with your general point), but smoking is not entirely voluntary. It’s a serious addiction.

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Myles SG 08.18.10 at 6:01 am

And, of course, Metamorf and Myles SG have indepedently reached the same policy conclusions.

Mhm? Just a couple years ago I still thought climate change wasn’t happening; and when it occurred to me that it does seem to be happening, then I came around to carbon taxes and cap-and-trade. If carbon taxes and cap-and-trade don’t work, I would support “direct regulation.” As long as climate change exists we will have to solve it, and the realm of libertarian choice only exists within the realm of workable and realistic solutions. If the realm of workable and realistic solutions are somewhat more statist, we would have to operate within that somewhat more statist realm.

That was a completely logical process. It’s not like I came up with the priors of market-based approaches first and only then applied them to climate change. If there was no climate change and no environmental externalities I would prefer the government not meddle in this.

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sg 08.18.10 at 6:44 am

lemuel: i agree that there are other more serious externalities, but there’s an argument about basic manners and how to share public space that libertarians consistently fail to get, and it’s much more immediate (since it affects us all every time we go out) than the other consequences. If libertarianism fails at the basic issue of how to use a shared public space in a way that everyone can appreciate, how on earth are they going to solve more serious social or economic problems?

metamorf’s response and Myles SG’s characterisation of anyone who doesn’t like smoking as “vile puritanism” are both clear examples of how selfish and unworkable libertarianism is, and how completely out of step with basic social values.

Then of course there is their remarkable ability to analyse complex environmental problems… when it “occurs to them” that such problems might exist…

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Myles SG 08.18.10 at 7:23 am

metamorf’s response and Myles SG’s characterisation of anyone who doesn’t like smoking as “vile puritanism” are both clear examples of how selfish and unworkable libertarianism is, and how completely out of step with basic social values.

I am only going to note that your logic actually does justify Puritanism, and unless you are willing to justify Puritanism, then a bit more toleration in your logic would be advisable.

Our social values are pluralistic. Your conception of social values are not.

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sg 08.18.10 at 8:18 am

pissing on someone in public and telling them to go home if they don’t like it is not “pluralistic,” Myles SG. You wouldn’t consider me pluralistic if I slapped a stink bomb onto your dining table at a restaurant. That you don’t get this element of how public space works probably has a lot to say about your approach to other elements of the social world people share. It’s a telling indictment of your ideology.

It’s not puritanical to demand that you don’t stink me out when I go to see a band. Puritanical would be saying that I don’t want you to do something that has no effect on me, because I think it’s wrong. In this case what you do does have a very definite effect on me, and so your choice of epiphet is completely wrong.

215

novakant 08.18.10 at 10:06 am

Smoking is not a private activity, it is not a private choice unless you do it on your own, so don’t whine when, after invading other peoples’ space with your publicly offensive behaviour, people start passing laws to stop you.

Drinking or driving is not a private activity either and the externalities are much more serious – get back to me when these activities will be restricted in the same way smoking is now.

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sg 08.18.10 at 10:14 am

Your drinking doesn’t affect me in public except through behaviour that is already policed – offensive behaviour, fighting, pissing in public, are all banned and have been forever. The difference is that the one offensive thing that smokers can do – get their smoke in your face – has until recently been considered acceptable, and anyone who objects to it a moron. This is equivalent to telling you that no, you don’t have the right to complain to the pub if its drunken morons piss in your yard and keep you up all night with their yelling. In fact you do have rights to stop that and have done for a long time, and it will be done by the council and/or the police on your behalf.

So what’s the difference? Sure it’s unfortunate that the smoke-in-face thing is unavoidable by the smoker, whereas the pissing-in-the-yard thing is avoidable by the drinker; but you can’t blame me if your choice of habit involves uncontrolled pollution of my personal space.

The other controls – taxes, where and how you can sell it, health warnings – are all in place for alcohol too, just to different degrees, and have been for far longer than is the case for smoking.

The victimized attitudes of militant smokers are really a bit sad. You’ve had the right to pollute everyone else’s social space for this long, and instead of finally recognizing that yeah, you were doing a pretty bastardly rude thing all those years, you act like being asked not to blow your smoke in someone else’s face is somehow a crude insult to your basic rights. Weird.

Do you let your dog shit on other people’s lawns too?

217

John Quiggin 08.18.10 at 10:16 am

Myles, I apologise. I was writing under the mistaken impression that you opposed market-based responses to climate change. Now I recall that our actual disagreement was over my claim that most self-styled libertarians oppose such measures. I think the thread has given pretty good support to that claim, but (as in the parable of the prodigal son) I’m happy to find even one libertarian who takes a sensible line (you make three, to my direct knowledge, but I’m sure there must be more).

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libertarian 08.18.10 at 10:31 am

Libertarian #188: “The alarmist claims are invariably borne out of a gross underestimation of uncertainty.”
—This is upside-down. Given the irrefutable certainties of radiation physics, the great uncertainty in the possible consequences is what is MOST alarming.

Lee Arnold, if you are going to rely only on the “irrefutable certainties of radiation physics” then you have a warming of approximately 1C for a doubling of CO2. You need a lot more than radiation physics to get to the alarmist claims of the IPCC or the latest AAS report. Specifically, you need water-vapor feedbacks, which are far less understood.

219

Zamfir 08.18.10 at 10:32 am

How about Lot? If we can find one good man in Libertopia, we will promise not to smite it with awesome state power? We know little about the political system of Sodom and Gomorra, but they were at the very least libertine in morals. Although I doubt they went as far as having gay marriage.

@ novakant: Driving is not really a good example, is it? We could propose to have smoker’s licenses with tests and a strict age limit, and a detailed set of smoking rules with a special smoking police to uphold it, and obligatory smoking liability insurance. By then smoking would be about as restricted as driving.

220

libertarian 08.18.10 at 10:38 am

In particular, it’s striking that (despite evincing no evidence of even any expertise in statistics) libertarian is pointing to a long and complex paper released on the web only a few days ago as the clinching evidence for her case.

I have a PhD in statistics quiggin. I never claimed the AAS paper as the clinching evidence – in fact I pointed out that the demolition of the hockeystick has been well-known for a long time. This is just the most prestigious statistical forum in which such demolition has yet been published.

The contrast with the ignorant, anti-intellectual tribalism of the propertarian right could scarcely be sharper.

That is hilarious coming from you quiggin: one of the most ignorant, anti-intellectual tribalists of the left when it comes to climate science alarmism. Why don’t you show all your friends here your measured posts on McIntyre? Lindzen?

221

Metamorf 08.18.10 at 11:09 am

Myles: As long as climate change exists we will have to solve it, and the realm of libertarian choice only exists within the realm of workable and realistic solutions.

Well, or adapt to it — otherwise, this is reasonable. For an example of a possible solution that doesn’t involve carbon taxes (or cap and trade), see this. It’s the kind of thing the Believers abhor, precisely because it makes no requirement that we repent of what they consider our wicked ways.

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John Quiggin 08.18.10 at 11:14 am

I have a PhD in statistics quiggin.

Given your comments in this thread I find this hard to believe. And hiding behind a pseudonym, you can make whatever claims you want. But feel free to out yourself if you want to. It will be a bit of a shock to your alma mater to discover they’ve given a doctoral degree to someone who doesn’t understand statistical significance (or, alternatively, is prepared to lie about it to push their political line).

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 11:30 am

Oh, and speaking of our “wicked ways”, see the smoking kerfuffle. tom bach @207 finally raised the one real objection to smoking in the vicinity of others, which is the possible carcinogenic effect on those with long, repeated exposures. This is a little different from simply being offended by it (e.g., the increasingly apoplectic sg). I’ll just note that the offense takers are aggressively trying to ban smoking in open air spaces, as well, or even private spaces involving lone occupants, which tells you something about what’s actually going on with all this, and the real motivations behind it. As others have observed, puritanical bans arise not because of the harm they do, but because of the pleasure they give.

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Earnest O'Nest 08.18.10 at 11:30 am

I have a PhD in detecting juvenile internet commenters and threads on libertarianism on CT are a growing study field in my area.

225

libertarian 08.18.10 at 11:39 am

Where have I shown I don’t understand statistical significance in that thread? You might want to read this before replying.

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John Quiggin 08.18.10 at 11:44 am

“the one real objection to smoking in the vicinity of others, which is the possible carcinogenic effect on those with long, repeated exposures”

On metamorf’s Yoo-like logic, it’s presumably OK for non-smokers to beat up smokers and take their cigarettes away, as long as they cause no permanent organ damage. Or perhaps libertarianism provides some magical distinction between blowing smoke and throwing punches.

Speaking for myself, I was keenly interested in the issue when I was regularly forced to inhale smoke. Now that hardly ever happens, and I’m more interested in making sure that tobacco packaging accurately reflects the product being sold. I’m perfectly happy for airports, bars etc to provide closed areas for smokers and actually gain some mild schadenfreude from passing by the glassed-in examples.

But of course, as the proportion of smokers declines, their weight in making decisions of this kind falls relative to those among the majority who are particularly sensitive. And there’s no longer any political need to make concessions. So, insults from smokers that would once have been passed over as trivial can now be prohibited.

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 12:15 pm

On metamorf’s Yoo-like logic, it’s presumably OK for non-smokers to beat up smokers and take their cigarettes away, as long as they cause no permanent organ damage.

Maybe john should be encouraged to take a rest — this doesn’t even approach making sense. I mean, we can already see his sad devolution continuing on into a kind of, oh, let’s not call it “liberal fascism”, but some sort of schadenfreudian puritanism here:

… as the proportion of smokers declines, their weight in making decisions of this kind falls relative to those among the majority who are particularly sensitive. And there’s no longer any political need to make concessions. So, insults from smokers that would once have been passed over as trivial can now be prohibited.

Now that is an interesting logic, don’t you think? Works just as well if you substitute any other minority in the place of “smokers” — religion, politics, clothing styles, …

228

novakant 08.18.10 at 12:45 pm

In fact you do have rights to stop that and have done for a long time, and it will be done by the council and/or the police on your behalf.

You don’t get out much, do you? The behaviour you mention is standard Thursday through Saturday night in London and in every other UK city for that matter. And you can add to that the deaths and injuries from drunk driving, rape, assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

There is no way in hell that such behaviour can be efficiently “policed”, let alone prevented, except for restricting the right to drink yourself silly.

Taxes on beer are absolutely negligible and don’t change anybody’s drinking behaviour, while taxes on tobacco are several multiples of the actual price.

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Zamfir 08.18.10 at 2:22 pm

UK extra tax on beer is 17 pound per liter alcohol, or about 50p per pint. Cigarettes are 14p per cigarette plus 24% of retail price.

230

bianca steele 08.18.10 at 2:34 pm

John Q:
Of course, there is the restriction on “force and fraud” (IIRC Ayn Rand conflates the two, contending that fraud is a kind of force). Is it then okay if there’s no beating up, and no direct confrontation at all, just surreptitious removal of the cigarettes, maybe replacing them with bubble gum? (IIRC Rand’s response is that all theft is a kind of force.[1])

It would seem “libertarians” ought to have no objection to a rich non-smoker’s buying up all the cigarettes and driving up the price. Even then enslaving smokers who can’t or don’t want to quit. Heck, he could then buy up media time and persuade people smoking was mandatory in order to addict them.

They would probably blame “liberals” for brainwashing the rich person into believing smoking is bad and he ought to try to impose his own morality on other people, thought. And then they probably would argue that blaming liberals is a pretty good way to get things changed whether or not liberals are “empirically speaking” at fault.

[1] That Rand stops there and insists that first principles (which seem to be obtained through intuition but which she insists are obtained through logical reasoning (as per Aristotle), and absolutely not through intuition, is evidence that she is not properly logical or philosophical despite her insistence that she was. Rand seems, unfortunately, typical in these responses.

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Substance McGravitas 08.18.10 at 2:36 pm

Some as-yet-unmentioned negative externalities of smoking.

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sg 08.18.10 at 2:49 pm

Novakant, I got out in the UK quite a bit, and it may surprise you to know that the kind of behaviour one sees in the UK stays in the UK – there’s nothing as bad in Japan or Australia, in general, though access to alcohol is less restricted there. Perhaps, um, it’s a British problem? As, perhaps, is the British inability to police it?

The fact remains that laws have been passed restricting those behaviours. That your average British drinker doesn’t respect those laws, and your average British cop doesn’t enforce them, is a social problem of a different kind, it doesn’t change the fact that drinking has been restricted and controlled for a lot longer than smoking.

It’s very sad for you, I’m sure, that you can’t any longer blow your smoke in my face with impunity, but somehow I can’t find much sympathy for those people who somehow thought this was a special right of theirs.

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Myles SG 08.18.10 at 3:03 pm

Speaking for myself, I was keenly interested in the issue when I was regularly forced to inhale smoke. Now that hardly ever happens, and I’m more interested in making sure that tobacco packaging accurately reflects the product being sold. I’m perfectly happy for airports, bars etc to provide closed areas for smokers and actually gain some mild schadenfreude from passing by the glassed-in examples.

But of course, as the proportion of smokers declines, their weight in making decisions of this kind falls relative to those among the majority who are particularly sensitive. And there’s no longer any political need to make concessions. So, insults from smokers that would once have been passed over as trivial can now be prohibited.

I don’t think you can quite understand how cranky I am if I have very bad cravings on a long trip with no direct flight; I can be extremely unpleasant, and this generally makes life less pleasant for my fellow passengers, not more. Also, this is somewhat fallacious:

“their weight in making decisions of this kind falls relative to those among the majority who are particularly sensitive.”

Shouldn’t you say, among the minority who are particularly sensitive? The majority of people tend to be rather more tolerant of smokers.

By the way, I don’t particularly mind the silly government demands that cigarette packs show the dangers of smoking, or even the ridiculous taxes. It’s the sick impulse behind cigarettes-cannot-be-displayed-in-any-store-counter-but-must-be-hidden-in-a-cabinet-that-looks-not-like-a-cabinet-but-a-part-of-the-wall foolishness that pisses me off.

And smoking rooms in airports are pretty much a necessity. You can exit the bar to smoke (few people complain about this except in winter), whereas airport security makes it near-impossible to access cigarettes in transit.

In any case, militant nonsmokers are much louder than the majority. The majority of nonsmokers I know generally do not tend to be unreasonable about this and not absolutely paranoid about second-hand smoke.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.18.10 at 3:18 pm

Metamorf #208: “It is therefore very questionable whether scientific uncertainty in the climate arena can be reduced at all. Politicians should also be aware of the fact that scientific paradigms can change.”

This comes right back around and bites you in the butt. Because it actually extends much further than that, to ALL complex systems science, such as economics and ecology.

The idea that climate mitigation policies will have detrimental economic effects is a staple belief of the denialists. Yet on net, they may be a plus. Given human creativity and the high advancement of technology already, mitigation is very likely to be a plus.

In ecology, we suspect that something very bad is already happening. climate change is going to accelerate wildlife extinction. This is because wildlife ecosystems have all been fragmented and reduced in size by human habitation, and so the “species-area law”, a statistical observation, suggests that local species extinctions are in progress. You will have already noticed this, for example, in the natural thinning of fauna and flora in any local park that is surrounded by suburb, sometimes with a resulting domination by fewer species. This extinction process will be accelerated by any climate change at all, because populations of plants and animals tend to move in response to climate, some of them in response to very small changes in conditions of heat and moisture. Some of these do not like human habitat.

It is just nonsense to make the blanket statement that environmental regulations are best handled by the market. Wildlife preservation is a notable case that doesn’t work, because most species aren’t economically valuable. Environmentalist ignorance of economics is equalled (or is now probably exceeded) by economics’ ignorance of ecology.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.18.10 at 3:19 pm

Libertarian #218: “then you have a warming of approximately 1C for a doubling of CO2. …you need water-vapor feedbacks, which are far less understood.”

–Which is one of the contributors to the definition of “uncertainty”: that which is not understood. So then, we look at what happened the LAST time it was possibly 1 degree warmer. I reproduced a description of that from research in the western half of the northern hemisphere. In other areas of the world, there may have been massive flooding. Have you factored into your cost-benefits a slew of Pakistani floods?

Here is what you might address: In climate change, statistical uncertainty is NOT YOUR FRIEND.

This, I think, gets us back to the reason why libertarianism will never work: People would have to know much more than they do. And, even if people were much smarter, it is very likely that we simply don’t have enough time to learn everything necessary to be responsible, less-government citizens. For complex systems science all we have are experts, and an ongoing refinement. My theory is that Hayek confused the libertarians, by making them believe that the market price mechanism can provide all the remaining information that is required. It doesn’t — prices transmit information only about scarcity and desire. And prices may not always transmit them fast enough in time.

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Zamfir 08.18.10 at 3:31 pm

I don’t think you can quite understand how cranky I am if I have very bad cravings on a long trip with no direct flight; I can be extremely unpleasant, and this generally makes life less pleasant for my fellow passengers, not more.
So you are addicted to cigarettes. Which is very unhealthy for you, somewhat unhealthy for the people around you, very unpleasant for people around you when you are smoking them, and apparently also unpleasant for them when you are not smoking them.

Then why are attempts to minimize new cases like yours silly, ridiculous or foolish?

237

Substance McGravitas 08.18.10 at 3:40 pm

The majority of people tend to be rather more tolerant of smokers.

The majority of people know that if they bug somebody who is a smoker about their smoking they have a good chance of running into a real dick.

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sg 08.18.10 at 3:46 pm

It’s personal responsibility Zamfir, libertarians love it. Metamorf made a bad decision to take up an addictive drug, and now we have to be held personally responsible.

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lemuel pitkin 08.18.10 at 3:48 pm

I guess the smoking discussion of smoking is reaching the end of its useful life. But I do want to emphasize one more time that the externalities described by John Q. and sg, while certainly real, are *not* the main motivation for the spread of anti-smoking laws.

Here — to take one of many possible examples — is the Mayor’s Management Report for the New York City Department of Health. The department’s top critical objective? “Reduce smoking and the illness and death caused by tobacco use.” No mention of illness among non-smokers. The focus is on the harms to smokers themselves. One of the department’s key indicators is the number of proportion of smokers in the city. There is no distinction in the reporting of this indicator how much of the smoking took place in the presence of non-smokers. The goal is less smoking, period.

While I obviously don’t share Myles SG’s view of anti-smoking legislation as”vile puritanism” (an old coworker, and friend, died just last week of lung cancer, in his mid-50s; if the vile puritans had gotten started a bit earlier he might have had a another good 20 years) there’s a certain analytic level on which he understands this legislation better than most of its defenders here do.

The idea is not that smoking is an individual choice that people should be free to make as long as it doesn’t impinge on others. It’s that smoking is a ferocious addiction that people cannot free themselves from without collective help. Which, as an ex-smoker, was certainly my experience.

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 3:54 pm

Metamorf made a bad decision to take up an addictive drug,…

Now you’re really getting confused, sg — I’ve already said I’ve never smoked (#205), and I don’t know what other addictive drugs you have in mind.

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Myles SG 08.18.10 at 4:05 pm

The idea is not that smoking is an individual choice that people should be free to make as long as it doesn’t impinge on others. It’s that smoking is a ferocious addiction that people cannot free themselves from without collective help. Which, as an ex-smoker, was certainly my experience.

I know this must be an extremely anticlimatic addendum, but as a personal matter, I need nicotine to function properly. I wasn’t so much “hooked” by nicotine as I simply never really functioned properly before I had nicotine or caffeine. I suspect I have ADHD. Used to have extremely subpar grades, truancy, that sort of thing.

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 4:29 pm

@234: The idea that climate mitigation policies will have detrimental economic effects is a staple belief of the denialists. Yet on net, they may be a plus. Given human creativity and the high advancement of technology already, mitigation is very likely to be a plus.

Well, just as the idea that climate change itself will have a detrimental effect is a staple of the believers. Yet, on net, it may be a plus. In which case, human creativity and the high advancement of technology already can be focused on real improvements rather than wasted on false alarms.

Do you see the problem? It’s this: climate change itself is a difficult enough problem fraught uncertainties of many kinds, as any honest climate scientist will admit (which admission, by the way, is what that the Dutch report from which you quoted was urging). But, next to climate, economics is a much more perilous predictive enterprise, beset with many more and greater uncertainties. These also include those unseen “tipping points”, beyond which lies economic disaster on the scale of the Great Depression or worse (which took a World War to end). Carbon taxes, in whatever form, on the global scale necessary to have any meaningful impact on atmospheric CO2, would need to be so massive, sustained in so draconian a regime for so long, that the economic impact is almost impossible to predict, despite the reassuring noises from lefty faithful. One would think that, after our recent experience of economic upheaval from bad mortgages, there would be a little more humility about our ability to predict economic events, and a little more concern about unforeseen economic damage.

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Metamorf 08.18.10 at 4:34 pm

The idea is not that smoking is an individual choice that people should be free to make as long as it doesn’t impinge on others. It’s that smoking is a ferocious addiction that people cannot free themselves from without collective help.

Same thing with junk food, too much TV, shopping, inactivity, and we haven’t even started on sex….

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bianca steele 08.18.10 at 4:55 pm

The “vile puritanism” complaint, I admit, is actually kind of attractive. The complaint has been part of US culture for probably 300 years (Myles’s Chandler example goes back a ways at least). But that–again, the fact that the complaint has been around for so long–exactly the reason the complaint is unpersuasive. The “vile puritans” are as much a part of American culture as Thanksgiving turkey. They are an easy target, because everybody knows someone like that. Besides that, they have at least a good a claim as anybody else to have a say about what goes (they are not outsiders who ought to shut up because they are clueless). It is overdetermined, excessively plausible, and requires more evidence, not less, or it just seems cranky.

245

novakant 08.18.10 at 4:55 pm

While the public drinking behaviour in the UK might indeed be a bit on the more extreme scale (doesn’t make it any better though) the deaths and injuries from drunk driving, rape, assault, domestic violence, child abuse etc. are definitely not a problem restricted to the UK, but exist in every country where people have more or less unrestricted access to alcohol.

But hey, it’s all good as long as nobody is “blowing smoke in your face”.

246

piglet 08.18.10 at 4:58 pm

Myles:

“I don’t think you guys understand how just irritating it is for people who smoke to have all that moralistic antismoking bullshit shoved in their face. *I honestly have had no end of people telling me somehow I am morally decrepit for smoking, and I am honestly sick of it*… It’s honestly tyrannical. Of course, not Hitler-tyrannical, but tyrannical in the oppressing-minority-who-are-smokers sense.”

Actually, non-smokers telling you to stop smoking are “tyrannical” only in the “libertarian tyrannical” sense, because they have the right to judge you, to not like you, to insult you, they have the right to treat you with contempt, to socially exclude you, to make your life miserable. By libertarian standards, they even have the right to refuse service to you just because you are a smoker. It is interesting how you mix up your arguments when you get carried away. Complaining about “intrusive” regulation is one thing, but complaining about social pressure and exclusion by a moralistic anti-tobacco majority (and they are a majority) is inconsistent with the libertarian credo.

As to the 70% tax, libertarians argue that pollution (and smoking is clearly pollution) can be dealt with via tort laws. Would you really prefer being sued by every non-smoker you meet, rather than just pay your tax and be done with it? And for that matter, would you really prefer a society in which tobacco use and sale is totally unregulated by the law but in which all those militant non-smokers are free to organize in non-government-backed ways to make life miserable for smokers?

247

libertarian 08.18.10 at 5:06 pm

So then, we look at what happened the LAST time it was possibly 1 degree warmer. I reproduced a description of that from research in the western half of the northern hemisphere. In other areas of the world, there may have been massive flooding. Have you factored into your cost-benefits a slew of Pakistani floods?

You’ve presented a bunch of anecdotes, but it is pretty clear that a warmer world will, overall, be far better for the human race. Plenty more people die of cold than the opposite.

As for uncertainty: there’s uncertainty in everything we do. Were we to apply the precautionary principle to everything for which we have scant evidence, we’d still be scratching our bums in caves. The firestarters and wheelmakers would have been driven out by the liberal fascists.

As for government being better placed to make decisions: you’re joking right? Central planning worked brilliantly for the Soviets – that’s why they’re still the world’s leading superpower.

248

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 5:07 pm

Complaining about “intrusive” regulation is one thing, but complaining about social pressure and exclusion by a moralistic anti-tobacco majority (and they are a majority) is inconsistent with the libertarian credo.

The problem is that the moralism and exclusion are being backed by the encouragement and abetment of State power. The State funds anti-tobacco propaganda and enforces mandatory anti-tobacco education for every person who is in the public education system. Without State intervention and encouragement there would be not even close to the amount of reprobation (to a great deal unjustified) toward smokers.

What the militant nonsmoker does isn’t just organize anti-smoking PR campaigns (they are perfectly fine); they are trying to get the State to use its monopoly of force to realize the wishes of a militant nonsmoker minority (the majority really doesn’t care one way or another about anti-smoking laws) against another minority.

It’s like the difference between private discrimination and one encouraged and abetted by Jim Crow laws. Both are illegal and unethical, but one is more illegal and unethical and cruel than the other.

And no, it’s not majority. It’s a minority who organizes these things. The majority doesn’t give a damn.

So unless you are willing to get the State to get out of the anti-tobacco moralism business, you should stop excusing the moralism of the militant antismokers.

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Myles SG 08.18.10 at 5:17 pm

The worst part is that I have no particular desire to give people second-hand smoke. I stay away from children and the young at all times if I need to use tobacco. I try to aim my smoke away from the general direction of another person and stay a reasonable distance away from other persons if possible. I do not encourage others to smoke and take the appropriate measures to remove tobacco smells from me and my orifices when engaging in contact or conversation with others.

However, if some Puritan killjoy persistently bugs me about it and wishes to make me miserable, I don’t feel the duty to be nearly so considerate. If you are a Puritan killjoy, you deserve what you get.

250

Substance McGravitas 08.18.10 at 5:31 pm

Myles, if your need is nicotine, will some other method of delivery satisfy work?

251

Lee A. Arnold 08.18.10 at 5:33 pm

Metamorf #242 — No, the list of possible problems caused by climate change is bad, but the list of economic problems caused by carbon taxes is short and mitigatable.

In fact, long-term economics is NOT so perilously unpredictive, not so fraught with tipping-points. We have thoroughly entered the scientific era and U.S. GDP per capita has gone STEADILY straight upward at about 2% per year since the late 1800’s. The Great Depression is a tiny blip on that graph. The same is becoming true of all other advanced economies.

There appears to be nothing that can stop economic growth except a global disaster. Things that would qualify are nuclear war, a sudden fatal pandemic, getting hit by a big meteor, or a rapid move into a climate regime of accelerated desertification, monsoonal flooding, and continental forest fires. One mega-forest fire might darken the skies enough to stop agriculture world-wide for a year or two — life would still go on, but without most humans, and the fire itself probably wouldn’t even show up in the fossil record. If primary green plant production was shut down for a year or two in previous eras, what would we know about it?

Changing incentives, such as by Pigouvian (carbon) taxes, by cap and trade, or by ending the massive subsidies to oil coal and gas doesn’t evacuate money from the economy like the Great Depression, leaving people bereft and without a way to turn — it just makes other technologies a little more cost competitive, and gets R&D investment into those sectors a little faster. The idea that this would incur a “tipping point” is frankly ludicrous. The proposal is not simply to reduce CO2 by less usage of carbon fuels, although it would have those minor effects; it is instead to spur the technological change to supplant these fuels. Without this incentive, it will happen slower.

This is basic economics — part of the reason that we are so far involved with carbon fuels is because they receive subsidies.

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piglet 08.18.10 at 5:47 pm

“Without State intervention and encouragement there would be not even close to the amount of reprobation (to a great deal unjustified) toward smokers.”

That is demonstrably wrong. Anti-smoking militancy started out without any help from the state and it was precisely that militancy that forced the state into action, not the other way round. In any case, you cannot complain about public “reprobation” in any context and be consistent as a libertarian. People have the right to be militant anti-smokers, they have the right to rub it in your face, to disapprove of what you do. As a libertarian, you have to endure that stoically just as African Americans are to stoically endure being denied service as long as it is not state-mandated.

Even when you make the argument that people wouldn’t behave a certain way “Without State intervention and encouragement”, you are on shaky ground because as a libertarian, you are not supposed to question people’s motivation for their actions. And whatever you may say, the state doesn’t mandate non-smokers to treat smokers with condescension.

253

Metamorf 08.18.10 at 5:55 pm

We have thoroughly entered the scientific era….

Ah, yes. Spoken like a character in a Jules Verne novel.

254

PaulB 08.18.10 at 6:09 pm

<blockquote
I don’t think it’s silly. I’ve never smoked and I stand just as “foursquare” behind the freedom of bar owners or owners of other enclosed public spaces to decide for themselves whether they’ll permit smoking or not. That one bar owner you know, for example, would obviously find it to his advantage to ban smoking on his own, which is fine. In the same way, it’s fine that you’ve decided to go outside to smoke, a decision that you shouldn’t and didn’t need the state to make for you.

I find it extraordinary that anyone should make this argument. We know as an empirical fact what happens when bar owners make their own decision on this question – almost all bars allow smoking.
I suppose it’s a Nash equilibrium, and one which is not socially optimal. The appropriate thing to do in this circumstance is to change the rules of the game. Unless you’re a non-smoking libertarian, in which case you can either give up drinking in bars or shoot all the smokers in a bar of your choice.

255

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 6:14 pm

Myles, if your need is nicotine, will some other method of delivery satisfy work?

I am gradually weaning off cigarettes, and am trying out other delivery vehicles.

But I do uphold a smoker’s right to smoke with minimum of infringement.

256

Ken 08.18.10 at 6:16 pm

Stuart @101: “A good example I know relatively well is food adulteration – so before any specific legislation things really start to kick off in the Victorian age alongside industrialisation – starting with adding sawdust and floor sweepings to bread becoming a standard practise,”

Long before that, according to “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England,” where it was made a crime to bake stones into bread, bread being sold by weight. I’ve noticed a similar sort of historical unawareness in other libertarian arguments. It really is useful to remember that governments are created by humans, not imposed on us by Satan strictly to plague mankind. It means you start with “So why did people decide to create the FDA? They were putting what into bread??” – instead of saying “the FDA must be bad, an unregulated free market is all that is needed.”

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piglet 08.18.10 at 6:33 pm

To expand once more on Myles 248, it seems that you are advocating a code of “political correctness” towards smokers: don’t be moralistic, don’t judge, don’t be impolite, etc. If racism and homophobia are perfectly acceptable (say libertarians), why should it be wrong to hate smokers?

“So unless you are willing to get the State to get out of the anti-tobacco moralism business, you should stop excusing the moralism of the militant antismokers.”

Again, thinking as a libertarian, there is nothing to excuse – they are perfectly in their right to be moralistic. I have to insist here because this is such as beautiful example of the inconsistency that never fails to appear in any discussion with libertarians.

And no, you are wrong about a majority not caring about smoking laws. As the latest example, Bavarians voted on July 4 (non-smoker’s independence day) by a 61% majority to ban smoking in all restaurants and bars, no exception. And contrary to Lemuel’s contention, the law was written and campaigned for on behalf of nonsmokers’ protection, nothing else. And US-style smoking bans have in Germany caught on only very recently. In fact, the Bavarian referendum was a reaction to a law passed in 2007 and weakened in 2009 that allowed too many exceptions.

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libertarian 08.18.10 at 6:38 pm

It really is useful to remember that governments are created by humans

And sometimes those newly-created governments do serve their “human” (ie public) masters tolerably well, at least for a short time. But left unchecked they rapidly degrade into self-serving, bloated institutions that do more to prey on the citizenry than they do to help us. We are at that point again in the US.

259

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 6:40 pm

“Again, thinking as a libertarian, there is nothing to excuse – they are perfectly in their right to be moralistic.”

This is ridiculous. Does the State put out relentless propaganda advocating propaganda? Does the State put out relentless propaganda advocating racism? Does the State tell schoolchildren every single school year that homosexuality is decrepit and bad?

Private individuals have their right to be moralistic, and smokers have the right to blow smoke in the face of such moralistic individuals, but the State has long tilted the field toward anti-smoking propaganda.

If the State teaches in schools that homosexuality is evil, would you be saying that latent anti-homosexual discrimination is you know, somehow normal as well?

You have quite a weak mind for grasping reasoning.

260

piglet 08.18.10 at 6:49 pm

Myles, you are a gem. So I have the right to be racist because the state doesn’t advocate racism any more (it somehow doesn’t matter that it did for centuries) but I shouldn’t be anti-tobaccist (invent a better term if you wish) because that is what the state advocates? You are taking consistency to a whole new level.

261

Myles SG 08.18.10 at 6:53 pm

You have a right to be a racist in private, non-commercial relations (if you don’t want to be friends with people of a particular ethnicity, etc). You do not have such rights in commercial relations (renting, etc).

262

Metamorf 08.18.10 at 7:49 pm

PaulB (@254): I find it extraordinary that anyone should make this argument.

I find it extraordinary that you find it extraordinary — if all bar owners choose to allow smoking that must be because they can satisfy more customers by doing so than by banning it, no? As a non-smoking libertarian (for want of a better label), I find this “socially optimal” myself, and feel no need to give up going to bars. If I had to shoot anyone, it would probably be the arrogant (and often enough puritanical) zealots who think their particular tastes should determine what’s “optimal” for everyone else — but I wouldn’t really do that, since I’m for live and let live, after all.

263

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 08.18.10 at 9:03 pm

Plenty more people die of cold than the opposite.

And plenty more people die of floods than of cold.

264

piglet 08.18.10 at 9:09 pm

I am still mystified why libertarians would get worked up about people allegedly being “puritanical zealots”. Don’t they have every right to be puritanical zealots, just as you have the right to be libertarian? Metamorf may not believe the but there are plenty of militant nonsmokers who don’t need the state to really dislike those who still smoke. In a society in which smokers have become a minority, you guys should be careful what you wish for. A libertarian society in which smokers are a minority and non-smokers organize to make smokers’ lives miserable by “non-coercive” means might be a lot worse for smokers than what we have now.

Since you like the term “puritanical” so much, remember that the modern state has more often than not acted to restrict puritans’ zeal. A puritanical community doesn’t need state power to impose itself on dissenting members.

265

PaulB 08.18.10 at 9:27 pm

Metamorf (262). Please look up “Nash Equilibrium”, “Prisoners’ Dilemma”, and “Braess’s Paradox”. It is demonstrably not always the case that the equilibrium state of a social system is socially optimal.

266

Irrelephant 08.18.10 at 9:40 pm

Small quibble. That would be *rational* equilibrium state is not always optimal. The irrationally (read selflessly or altruistically motivated) derived equilibrium states are often quite optimal. Cooperation works wonders, like, oh, multicellular creatures. Ain’t that a kick in the ass?

267

Metamorf 08.18.10 at 10:23 pm

Don’t they have every right to be puritanical zealots, just as you have the right to be libertarian?

Sure, hence my live and let live conclusion (262). They’re still puritanical zealots aka human scum :-)

@PaulB: It is demonstrably not always the case that the equilibrium state of a social system is socially optimal.

And how is “socially optimal” defined? Do you think there might be a difference between the theoretical world, in which the theorist can assume knowledge of each participant’s definition, and the real world, in which policy makers cannot?

268

Robert 08.18.10 at 11:31 pm

Well, we’re into demonstrating my usual point. Propertarians know nothing about economics.

269

sg 08.19.10 at 12:52 am

lemuel, again you’re right, but the reason that non-smokers tolerate these campaigns and generally encourage them, including for example by telling off smokers who try to flout the new laws, is that they have immediate positive benefits for the majority of people’s social lives.

This is very different to, for example, if the government attempted to enforce a ban on another dangerous, voluntary act that had no ramifications for the non-users. The obvious example I’m thinking of, which would be completely intolerable to the Australian public, is a ban on any of the major contact sports at amateur level – or even significant changes to the rules to make them safer. People who do not watch the sport and don’t play it would object strongly to such laws and would never use social pressure to enforce them. This is also why attempts by doctors to ban boxing have failed so spectacularly.

The same has generally been true of drinking laws – most people turn a blind eye to under-age drinking if they think it’s harmless, and until government campaigns made the effects clear, people didn’t even stop their mates drunk driving. This changed when people became aware of its effects on people other than the driver, and determined that they had a social responsibility – backed up by law and beautifully parodied in The Simpsons – to prevent their friends from doing this.

This should make it pretty clear that it’s nothing to do with puritanism, as the militant crazies on here are claiming, and a lot to do with the majority’s vision of how their health funds should be spent, and how their public spaces should be ordered.

Another thing the libertards ranting here might want to consider is what would happen to their health care in a pure libertarian world. Does MylesSG seriously think that treatment for smoking-related diseases would be covered by his private health fund in an unregulated libertopia? In the US the health insurers are already considering a levy on smokers, and smokers currently only pay their way because their high tobacco taxes subsidize the services they don’t receive (social security and aged care).

In libertopia, regardless of the level of tobacco taxes, it’s highly unlikely you’d be able to get health insurance at all past your 40s Even if you did, the chance that you’d be able to get access to scarce organs when yours failed would be vanishingly low. But, with unadulterated and unregulated tobacco company propaganda, Myles SG and metamorf (whose comments here clearly show them to be easy victims of the last individualist idea they heard) will undoubtedly be smokers in libertopia.

It’s quite ironic that your capacity for libertarian self-righteousness on this issue depends entirely on the high taxes you pay and government regulation of the health insurance industry. But I suppose being libertarians, you’re long since inured to the ironies of your own positions.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.19.10 at 2:28 am

Libertarian #247 — Now just go back for a half-second and read what you wrote there. It is almost entirely gibberish. The numbers dying of cold and heat are not the issue. It is always tragic, but neither one is a big number in the developed nations. Although you might please advise us of the official and unofficial numbers of Russian heat deaths this year, as they become available. And hope that Europe can avoid more August heat waves. At #201, I listed six of many peer-reviewed studies from Lynas’ bibliography that show that during the so-called “Medieval warming period” the western half of North America up through Saskatchewan and Manitoba became arid. Do you call this “anecdote”? McShane and Wyner’s Introduction states, “The principal sources of evidence for the detection of global warming and in particular the attribution of it to anthropogenic factors come from basic science as well as General Circulation Models (GCMs) that have been fit to data accumulated during the instrumental period.” They do not call this “scant evidence” and their discussion of the shape of the long-handle on the hockey-stick is entirely disconnected from it. And I think there is about an 80% probability that they would laugh at your notion that the precautionary principle somehow prevents technological innovation from occurring. Finally, governments don’t make decisions. They are made up of people. You wrote in #258 “But left unchecked they rapidly degrade into self-serving, bloated institutions that do more to prey on the citizenry than they do to help us.” But they are not left unchecked, they are changed by the voters. Voting is the check — just as demand is the check in voluntary price markets. Now, both are in thrall to limited and sometimes demented rationality. But they are different subsystems at different time scales. They have different virtues, different problems.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.19.10 at 2:30 am

Metamorf #253: “Ah, yes. Spoken like a character in a Jules Verne novel.”

–Actually written by somebody sitting at a COMPUTER.

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Metamorf 08.19.10 at 3:03 am

—Actually written by somebody sitting at a COMPUTER.

That was kind of the point of the irony, Lee.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.19.10 at 3:28 am

Metamorf, at #242 you wrote, “But, next to climate, economics is a much more perilous predictive enterprise, beset with many more and greater uncertainties.” So I don’t fall into misunderstanding your ironies again, perhaps you would list the ways in which economics is more perilous than climate.

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libertarian 08.19.10 at 1:55 pm

Lee Arnold: this thread is getting old, but just to address a couple of your points: Different GCMs rely on different values for aerosols in order to fit the instrumental record (Kiehl GRL vol 34). Without aerosols they all grossly overestimate climate sensitivity; ie based on the CO2 increase since pre-industrial times, all the models predict it should be way hotter today than it actually is. Since they all use widely different aerosol values — the more sensitive models need more aerosols while the less-sensitive models need less — one cannot reliably extrapolate them to estimate future warming. McShane and Wyner probably do not know this, but it is why the GCM predictions are going to be the next pillar of the AGW alarm story to crumble. The third (and final) pillar — estimates of climate sensitivity from paleo data between the LGM (Last Glacial Maximum) and today — will also fall due to a fundamental flaw in the assumptions (essentially, the estimate assumes sensitivity is a constant function of climate state, which it manifestly is not).

AGW alarmism is based on very mediocre science and mediocre scientists peddling their own social agenda.

But they [governments] are not left unchecked, they are changed by the voters.

Yes, but there is a lot of hysteresis in the system. November 2nd is going to be a wonderful day, but there is still an awful lot of work to do. And it will take more than a couple of elections to undo the parasitic burdens built up over decades by the unholy alliance between elected officials, public sector unions, publicly-funded academics, and the trust-fund babies.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.19.10 at 3:10 pm

The thread will have to get old, if you don’t wish to address any real point. I have no doubt that GCM models will change and I also have no doubt that they will continue to be inaccurate. I would like to know of any case in the history of science where a mathematical model has deterministically predicted any n-compartment system. Don’t bother answering because I don’t think it matters. Instead, let’s suppose that we get only a mild return to the temperatures of Medieval times. The paleo evidence is that the western half of North America at that time was becoming very arid, no soil retention due to flash-flooding, higher rate of forest fires, etc. Now the questions for you are: (1) Do you really believe that the total economic benefits of causing the entire western half of the United States to turn into a sand-dune desert, will be greater than the total economic costs of dealing with it? (2) Flipping benefits and costs around, do you believe that the total economic costs of providing price incentives (such as by Pigouvian taxes or cap and trade or whatever) for the development of new energy technologies, will be greater than the total economic benefits of doing this? And finally, (3) Having given your likely answers: Do you believe that your net economic benefits of turning the western half of the United States into a desert will be larger that your net costs of climate mitigation incentives for that area? Because you write a lot about “uncertainty”, but the problem I see is in what you appear to be certain of.

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piglet 08.19.10 at 3:12 pm

Metamorf, at #242 you wrote, “But, next to climate, economics is a much more perilous predictive enterprise, beset with many more and greater uncertainties.”

That is an interesting quote because libertarians frequently claim that their free-market ideology is validated by science, thereby relying on models and statistical correlations that are far, far less robust than the ones that the science of Global Warming is based on. Metamorf is right to say that economics has little predictive power (if that is what he’s trying to say) but then could libertarians please stop telling us that privatization, deregulation, tax cuts etc. etc. are scientifically proven to increase prosperity?

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piglet 08.19.10 at 3:17 pm

“Because you write a lot about “uncertainty”, but the problem I see is in what you appear to be certain of.”

Libertarianism is right by default unless it is proven wrong with a 100% certainty. Since there is always uncertainty in the real world, libertarianism is the only certainty. QED.

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libertarian 08.19.10 at 6:10 pm

I have no doubt that GCM models will change and I also have no doubt that they will continue to be inaccurate. I would like to know of any case in the history of science where a mathematical model has deterministically predicted any n-compartment system.

Gee, even I wasn’t willing to go that far. But since you concede the GCMs have little, if any, predictive power, please carry on…

(1) Do you really believe that the total economic benefits of causing the entire western half of the United States to turn into a sand-dune desert, will be greater than the total economic costs of dealing with it?

Better question:

(1) Do you really believe that the total, risk-adjusted economic benefits of causing the entire western half of the United States to turn into a sand-dune desert, will be greater than the total risk-adjusted economic costs of dealing with it?

To which the answer is an obvious “yes”. You have scant evidence for the sand-dune desert scenario, and I have ample evidence that the costs of abrupt decarbonization of the world economy will be large.

Next question:

(2) Flipping benefits and costs around, do you believe that the total economic costs of providing price incentives (such as by Pigouvian taxes or cap and trade or whatever) for the development of new energy technologies, will be greater than the total economic benefits of doing this?

Absolutely. The negative externalities of fossil-fuel consumption are vastly exaggerated, so a Pigouvian tax rate based on such exaggerated costs would (by definition) be greater than the economic benefits conferred.

Your 3rd question is answered by my first answer above.

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novakant 08.19.10 at 6:27 pm

For the record, I’m not a libertarian and arguing for a pluralistic society based on compromise and respect for minorities as opposed to the dictatorship of the majority and constant overreaching by organs of the state doesn’t make me a libertarian.

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piglet 08.19.10 at 6:35 pm

“I have ample evidence that the costs of abrupt decarbonization of the world economy will be large.”

Sure, paleoclimatic proxies are unreliable, GCMs are unreliable, the laws of radiation are too poorly understood to draw firm conclusions about future climate, but burning less coal is too much of a risk to even consider, even when the alternative is to turn half of the United States into desert. Why? Because somebody with the pseudonym “libertarian” says so. This is modern conservatism, a militant rejection of science and rationality that threatens our survival.

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Myles SG 08.19.10 at 7:04 pm

Why? Because somebody with the pseudonym “libertarian” says so. This is modern conservatism, a militant rejection of science and rationality that threatens our survival.

You note “rejection of science” as if it is some bad thing. Where were you when all the “science” in the 1930’s pointed toward Socialism (in either the left-wing or the right-wing variety) as the only scientific solution to humanity’s ills? When even such a deeply self-honest and realistic man as Eric Blair thought there’s no other way out but Socialism?

I should think the dogma and doctrine of Classical Liberalism has served humanity better. Sir James Cowperthwaite dogmatically applied classical liberalism to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong became richer than Britain. What you call science is in fact inferior to classical liberal doctrine in its perception of truth and the common weal.

In any case, a thread on libertarianism has garnered 280 comments. Given the consistently tiny numbers of libertarians in the world, I wonder why?

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Myles SG 08.19.10 at 7:05 pm

Sir John Cowperthwaite*

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Substance McGravitas 08.19.10 at 7:11 pm

Where were you when all the “science” in the 1930’s pointed toward Socialism (in either the left-wing or the right-wing variety) as the only scientific solution to humanity’s ills?

I wonder if there is some difference in countries that currently offer a good living standard and those same countries in the 1930s.

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libertarian 08.19.10 at 7:20 pm

burning less coal is too much of a risk to even consider, even when the alternative is to turn half of the United States into desert.

Well, piglet being piglet, I can understand why you are overly nervous, piglet. But don’t worry, the likelihood of half the United States that is not already desert becoming desert as a result of burning coal is infinitesimal.

Nevertheless, I’d be happy if we stopped burning coal and replaced it with a rational nuclear energy program.

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John Protevi 08.19.10 at 7:25 pm

I have ample evidence that the costs of abrupt decarbonization of the world economy will be large

How much work is “abrupt” doing here? When would be a good time to start decarbonization of the world economy, at what rate, and using which mechanisms?

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piglet 08.19.10 at 7:44 pm

You note “rejection of science” as if it is some bad thing.

Well that’s settled then.

What you call science is in fact inferior to classical liberal doctrine in its perception of truth and the common weal.

These quotes are gems. This 286 comments thread wasn’t totally wasted after all.

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John Quiggin 08.19.10 at 8:18 pm

So, Dr Libertarian has acquired a PhD in economics to go with her doctorates in statistics and climate science. Honestly, people, I don’t think it is worth feeding this troll. His only purpose here is to demonstrate the point I made back at #102, and I think that has been achieved at absurd length.

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libertarian 08.19.10 at 8:45 pm

John Protevi @285: We should start decarbonizing when we are confident that CO2 is a real threat. There are two components to evaluating the threat: 1) how much will temperature rise, and 2) what changes will such temperature increases cause. At present, all of the modeling I see underestimates uncertainty in 1) and overestimates negative impacts in 2).

So step 1) for me would be for the scientists and institutions to be more honest and thorough in evaluating the uncertainty both on the upside and the downside. Once we can say with reasonable confidence that there is non-negligible probability of something pretty bad happening as a result of continued CO2 emissions, then I would advocate government intervention in two ways: 1) market-based carbon trading, eg cap-and-trade; and 2) removal of some of the legacy impediments to nuclear energy that are not rationally-based. (that second one is more government “un-intervention” but since the original intervention was driven by public pressure you can’t entirely blame the government)

As for the rate, I would start slow and see how things progress. We can hope for technological fixes in response to market pressure under a cap-and-trade system, but there are limits to our ingenuity and the constraints of physics to deal with, which may mean the choice is not between alternative sources of energy but between plunging ourselves back into darkness or living with the consequences of a warmer planet. Faced with no alternative we may choose the latter.

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John Protevi 08.19.10 at 9:00 pm

We should start decarbonizing when we are confident that CO2 is a real threat. There are two components to evaluating the threat: 1) how much will temperature rise, and 2) what changes will such temperature increases cause. At present, all of the modeling I see underestimates uncertainty in 1) and overestimates negative impacts in 2).

Thanks, libertarian. I see a problem with pronouns here, though, of which there are several at work, some explicit and others implicit, but in need of being rendered explicit. There are two explicit in the passage above: “we” and “I,” and two implicit: “they1″ (i.e., those who are doing the modeling you disagree with) and “they2″ (those who make policy). It would seem then you’re faced with a struggle between you (“I” above) and “they1″ as to how to convice “we” (the public) and “they2″ (policy makers) who is more believable. Is that how you see things?

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chris 08.19.10 at 9:26 pm

Where were you when all the “science” in the 1930’s pointed toward Socialism (in either the left-wing or the right-wing variety) as the only scientific solution to humanity’s ills? When even such a deeply self-honest and realistic man as Eric Blair thought there’s no other way out but Socialism?

Not born yet, of course. Are you actually that old? If so, I commend your mental flexibility in adapting to Internet use at this advanced age, not to mention your energy in trolling so many Internet forums so persistently.

Setting that aside, though, with a sufficiently expansive definition of socialism, a Hegelian synthesis of socialism and preexisting governmental systems is precisely what is governing some of the best-governed (by any objective standard) countries in the world today, which seems to me rather to prove that the 1930s scientists were at least partially vindicated. Socialism turned out to be neither a threat nor a menace but, in fact, merely a possibly overzealous and narrow view of some potentially useful insights about public goals and actions.

Hayek, on the other hand, stands overwhelmingly refuted by the abundance of partially-socialistic but quite obviously non-serfdom nations that exist today.

On the other hand, I suspect that what you really want is to equivocate between “any collective action whatsoever” and “oppressive murderous tyrannies complete with gulags”, in order to equate one with the other and so resurrect a thesis long since abandoned by anyone with any ability to perceive reality. Zombie political science?

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libertarian 08.19.10 at 9:31 pm

Your pronoun summary is correct, save that if I understand you correctly I don’t think the quoted passage refers to “they2″. It refers to two types of “they1″: “they1a” – the climate modelers, and “they1b” – the “impact-on-humankind-of-climate-change” modelers, which isn’t a discipline as such but is contributed to by economists, environmentalists, etc. “they2″ (policy-makers) consume the models from “they1b” who in turn consume the models from “they1a”.

Also, I don’t think “I” need to convince policy makers, just the public (policy-makers will follow, at least in a functioning democracy).

So, slightly rephrasing you, “I” am struggling to convince “we” (the public) that “they1a” (and to a lesser extend “they1b”) are not believable. And by “not believable” I mean their predictions are far more confident than the evidence warrants (not that their predictions are necessarily wrong).

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John Protevi 08.19.10 at 9:51 pm

I don’t think “I” need to convince policy makers, just the public (policy-makers will follow, at least in a functioning democracy). So, slightly rephrasing you, “I” am struggling to convince “we” (the public) that “they1a” (and to a lesser extend “they1b”) are not believable. And by “not believable” I mean their predictions are far more confident than the evidence warrants (not that their predictions are necessarily wrong).

OK, that makes sense. I’m not so sure about the direct link you posit between policy makers and public opinion, given the abilities of various elites (IMO, not just governments) to influence both policy and public opinion. But on your view of the public / policy relation, the next question I guess is what are your strategies for achieving the goal of convincing the public about your views on the over-confidence of the two groups of modelers (they1 and they2)?

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PaulB 08.19.10 at 10:05 pm

libertarian is quite right that there is more uncertainty in climate change projections than popular reports tend to suggest. We simply don’t know whether net feedback effects will be negative or positive, and it’s hard to see how we could know without running the experiment.

But it is bizarre to conclude from that that the right thing to do is to run the experiment. It’s not as if we have unlimited supplies of fossil fuels in any case. Our choices are either to burn fossil fuels as fast as extraction costs permit, and hope that the environment can cope, or to slow down as much as we can, hope that the environment survives that burden, and leave more reserves of fossil fuels for future generations to use.

Exhaustion of finite resources while risking profound adverse effects on the environment is the opposite of what conservatism ought to mean, which makes it puzzling that it’s the popular policy of right-wing politicians. Nor do I understand why libertarians want to ignore negative externalities if they’re in any way uncertain. Can someone explain to me why this is a polarizing left-right issue?

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PaulB 08.19.10 at 10:24 pm

Metamorf: ‘And how is “socially optimal” defined? Do you think there might be a difference between the theoretical world, in which the theorist can assume knowledge of each participant’s definition, and the real world, in which policy makers cannot?’

Please look up “Prisoners’ Dilemma” and “Braess’s Paradox”. If you really can’t grasp what’s socially optimal in those cases then say so and I’ll be happy to explain.

I agree that the real world is more complicated. Do you have some reason to suppose that it’s therefore more likely to lead to socially optimal results? If so, what is that reason?

In the case of the bar owner we were discussing, you started off saying he “would obviously find it to his advantage to ban smoking on his own”. Later you said he must have chosen to allow smoking because he can “satisfy more customers by doing so than by banning it”. So which is it? It seems to me that this is a clear example of a case where the economic dynamics create a non-optimal result, but if you can find some other explanation of why the bar owner should act in what you say is obviously his own disadvantage then please share it with us.

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piglet 08.19.10 at 10:48 pm

“Can someone explain to me why this is a polarizing left-right issue?”

Because “What you call science is in fact inferior to classical liberal doctrine in its perception of truth and the common weal.”

PaulB and John Protevi, I intended to leave this thread (and this will be my last) but this is hard to watch. Why don’t you take these guys seriously? Why is it so hard to believe that they mean what they say? You have somebody tell you he doesn’t care whether food production collapses due to desertification as long as his dogmatic belief in the superiority of unregulated market capitalism isn’t called into question, and another one openly announcing that science should really be rejected (I never expected them to be that open about their anti-science stance but there you have it) and you try to argue with them about Nash equilibria? What do you expect? Consider John’s hint.

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engels 08.19.10 at 11:32 pm

Science is inferior to libertarianism because the former might lead to communism. Glad we got that straight, Myles.

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Metamorf 08.20.10 at 12:12 am

Wow, this really is the thread that will not die, isn’t it? Let me make one last try to clear up some things, and then I’ll be movin’ on, promise.

chris: Socialism turned out to be neither a threat nor a menace but, in fact, merely a possibly overzealous and narrow view of some potentially useful insights about public goals and actions.

Tell that to the citizens of all the actually existing socialist states prior to 1990, or to the citizens of Cuba and North Korea now. Interesting, though, that you agree with right wing critics of Obama that his administration fits an “expansive” definition of socialism.

PaulB: Nor do I understand why libertarians want to ignore negative externalities if they’re in any way uncertain.

Well, I think we should all want to know something about the costs and benefits involved in doing something about any supposed negative externalities, else we risk incurring greater costs than the externalities themselves. It’s not limited to libertarians, it’s not that hard, and it doesn’t involve “ignoring” anything. As to your question why it’s a “polarizing left-right issue”, I certainly agree that it shouldn’t be. But the explanation that I keep coming across is that it’s fed by underlying and non-rational commitments and antipathies — involving industrial civilization, “wasteful lifestyles”, etc. — that are aspects of the current left-right split.

@294: I’m no expert in Game Theory, but as I understand it, when you can see the payoffs for all participants, when the payoffs can be assigned numerical values to make them easier to compare, and when the participants can simply be assumed to agree on the payoffs, then it becomes possible for a theorist, overviewing the game as a whole, to define a “socially optimal” set of strategies. In the real world few if any of those conditions pertain, and the notion of “socially optimal” becomes much harder to define in any practical way.

Re: the bar owner, that wasn’t a scenario I came up with, and I was simply responding to the conditions described by others. In the first case, for example, the assumption was that the owner found all sorts of advantages to a smoking ban — so in that case (assuming the advantages outweighed any disadvantages) then I said he would or could have found it to his advantage to ban smoking himself. There’s a lesson there: in general, if something is to your advantage, you really don’t need the state to tell you to do it, you actually can just decide to do it on your own, assuming you’re free to do so. In the second case, the assumption was that no owner would actually ban smoking voluntarily — so in that case I said that must be because owners understand that they can satisfy more customers by allowing smoking than by banning it. If that’s not the case, then someone would be able to figure out that they could satisfy more customers with a ban, and hence do more business — i.e., to translate the obvious, at least one of the players would be able to alter her strategy to get a better payoff, and so the absence of non-smoking bars is not a “Nash Equilibrium”.

John Protevi, by the way, as always, adds value to a conversation, whether or not you agree with him. piglet, not so much.

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PaulB 08.20.10 at 12:29 am

Metamorf: so the lesson of what we know actually happened is that the facts are wrong and your theory works perfectly if you repeat it often enough. ok, you’ve convinced me, piglet is right.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.20.10 at 1:01 am

Libertarian #278 Unfortunately for your argument, I’m not writing about “abrupt decarbonization”, while on the other hand, the evidence that the western U.S. (and southern Europe) tends toward desertification in warmer climates is so far from “scant” as to be currently uncontested. It is even visually obvious. Moreover, Pigouvian taxes don’t have to be geared to the cost of the externality if they are meant to provide a price incentive to alternative innovation. (And don’t forget to include the costs of U.S. foreign policy to the externality of fossil fuels though perhaps you have judged that is exaggerated too.) But the one thing you’ve really overlooked is basic growth economics: economists from Adam Smith through to the present have presented voluminous evidence that technical innovations crossbreed from one industrial sector to another, and so the benefits of new energy technologies or any other new technologies almost always include multiplied economic growth and/or cost-savings. In all, you have yet to amount any sort of argument against the certainty that price incentives to encourage alternative developments is a big win-win. If it weren’t, then markets would never work to begin with.

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John Quiggin 08.20.10 at 5:08 am

@299 Indeed, “libertarian” is aptly self-named, since his distrust of markets is typical of libertarians as a group (in other respects, such as Dunning-Kruger judgements, he is more archetypal than typical). As I mentioned above, I can count on one hand the number of self-described libertarians I know who support a scientifically and economically sensible response to climate change using market-based instruments.

Thanks for giving us such an extended demonstration, Doctor L.

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Nick 08.20.10 at 7:53 am

‘pissing on someone in public and telling them to go home if they don’t like it is not “pluralistic,” Myles SG’

Yes it is. What about bars for people who want to get pissed on? (they do exist). would you ban them. What about venues where consensual Sadi-masochism takes place? Majorities and the state are constantly trying to ban them.

Smoking is a slightly harder case because it is popular and so risks dominating a Market (unlike fetish bar). But I reckon the problem could be solved by deregulating alcohol licensing. If every non-smoking cafe wre allowed to serve beer if they wanted to, then there would be more options for the non-smoking alcohol seeker.

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sg 08.20.10 at 8:22 am

that’s a silly comparison, Nick.

deregulating alcohol licensing doesn’t change the fact that night clubs and music venues are spoilt by a small minority of smokers. If I want their smoke in my face well, I could ask them couldn’t I? The problem is when I don’t want their smoke in my face, but I get it anyway because they don’t have the decency to be polite and I don’t have the means to stop them being rude.

It’s no different to noise pollution, dog shit or anything else. If you can’t live side-by-side by your neighbours with a basic modicum of decency, you end up being forced the hard way. And if you can’t even understand what “a modicum of decency” means because you don’t even realise that what you do is unpleasant for the people around you, well then the case is even stronger for forcing you to grow up, instead of asking politely. And really, the smokers here who think that their smoking doesn’t bother the vast majority of non-smokers, are just being stupid.

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Freshly Squeezed Cynic 08.20.10 at 9:38 am

Can someone explain to me why this is a polarizing left-right issue?

To piss off hippies.

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Nick 08.20.10 at 12:35 pm

‘Decency’ is socially relative, and fundamentally a question of individual preference. For example, a homophobe might argue that open expressions of homosexuality are indecent to them, or worse, encourage their latent homosexual urges which they are trying hard to resist.

So the best thing you can do is internalise the consequences of people’s preferences. Laws against dog shit on a pavement is reasonable because that is a public space which people cannot avoid. But no one is forced to use a private venue, whatever spectacular music they happen to have on.

The ease with which contemporary liberals and leftists start talking about decency as a reason for legal regulation illustrates that they are actually just a new kind of conservative. I’ve seen this even starting to wash up in free speech debates, with some ‘liberals’ starting to support restrictions of expression based on content.

But they are conservatives with a different comprehensive ethical agenda. One that, for some reason, seems to revolve around the freedom to listen to any music you want, to not have to wash your clothes too often, and to have a lifestyle that allows you to live into your 80s with perfectly preserved lungs.

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bianca steele 08.20.10 at 1:14 pm

I think “hippies”@303 means “people who think they can drown out my Springsteen with their Simon and Garfunkel or Billy Joel if they turn the volume up high enough, but their taste in music is proof they are losers.”

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Sam Dodsworth 08.20.10 at 1:21 pm

Personally, I’m very happy to have a smoking ban included in the package of services I buy from my government. Why do libertarian smokers want to impose their terms on my contract?

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chris 08.20.10 at 1:45 pm

Tell that to the citizens of all the actually existing socialist states prior to 1990, or to the citizens of Cuba and North Korea now.

You mean the dictatorships? Dictatorships are bad whether or not they pretend to be socialist. (We could have a nice long argument about whether it’s possible for a dictatorship to be *genuinely* socialist or whether the dictator and cronies are ipso facto a ruling class who rule for themselves and not the people, but it’s beside the point: ostensibly-socialist dictatorships and non-ostensibly-socialist dictatorships both suck, so it’s obvious that the problem is the dictatorship.)

I’m perfectly willing to concede that dictatorship is the path to serfdom — hell, you hardly need a path at that point. But what does that have to do with socialism?

You are familiar with the term “social democracy” and know what it describes, right? Several of the most prosperous *and most free* nations on Earth? That’s who I was talking about in comment 290, not North Korea.

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bianca steele 08.20.10 at 1:50 pm

“Hippies” might also include “women who buy (and spend time thinking about) $25 lipsticks and such, when all I need are $8 razor blades, a monthly facial, and tooth whitening strips to look much better than they do.”

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libertarian 08.20.10 at 1:56 pm

Indeed, “libertarian” is aptly self-named, since his distrust of markets is typical of libertarians as a group

Oh yes, libertarians hate free markets. And socialists love them. I think quiggin has gone emeritus. @288 I advocate using market based approaches to CO2 reduction if we need to. I simply disagree that we have enough information to decide the “if”.

We simply don’t know whether net feedback effects will be negative or positive, and it’s hard to see how we could know without running the experiment.

Then we should cutoff public funding for climate resesrach today, PaulB, because answering that question is exactly what these guys are being paid for. That said, we’re already running the experiment and it is not supporting the models. We will get the answer without having to go the whole way. It would just be made a whole lot easier if the people charged with getting the answer were more honest and were not pushing their own policy agenda.

what are your strategies for achieving the goal of convincing the public about your views on the over-confidence of the two groups of modelers (they1 and they2)?

I don’t have a strategy. But I do what I can, given the time available. Point out the problems when I see them. Write letters to the editor of my local newspaper in response to incorrect claims from alarmists. Post on blogs. I use my real name which carries some authority except when inappropriate like here (I’d rather give quiggin some of his own snarky mediicine under a pseudonym). Most of my friends are die-hard AGW believers, but they can’t easily dismiss me so that helps to at least get people thinking that they are not being fed the whole story.

This seems to be the “strategy” of most educated skeptics. There’s not a lot else we can do. We are by definition outsiders. But it seems to be working reasonably well.

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sg 08.20.10 at 3:09 pm

Nick, it’s pretty obvious that people can avoid using a footpath – they can drive, or walk on the road.

It’s also pretty obvious that in any kind of reasonable judgement of how society works, people can’t avoid using “private” spaces like music venues. Your argument is just another version of “if you don’t like what I do, go home.” Even though the smokers are the minority of people in the venue.

I should point out again, as well, that opposition to the effects of smoking is not just a matter of “decency,” in fact it is less a preference than dogshit. Smoking hurts my eyes, i.e. it has a biological effect. Dogshit doesn’t, but somehow getting dogshit on your shoes doesn’t seem to you to be a matter of “preferences.” I wonder why that is?

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John Protevi 08.20.10 at 3:29 pm

Thanks. Two points seem to need clarification.

I use my real name which carries some authority except when inappropriate like here (I’d rather give quiggin some of his own snarky mediicine under a pseudonym).

Insofar as John Quiggin blogs under his real name, and links to his personal website, it would seem that giving him some of his own snarky medicine would require you to do the same.

This seems to be the “strategy” of most educated skeptics. There’s not a lot else we can do. We are by definition outsiders. But it seems to be working reasonably well.

If I understand your position correctly, you say it’s too soon to tell if AGCC will have worse ecological / economic effects than the allegedly bad economic effects of changing our current energy tax structure. (I say “allegedly bad” to incorporate the above arguments about innovation under a Pigouvian tax.) But I don’t understand how saying that makes you an “outsider” as that view seems very well represented in various power clusters in the USA. And secondly I don’t see how claiming to be an “outsider” can mesh with your claims of success. The fact that your position (let’s not change the tax structure) has worked up until now (the US has not in fact changed its energy tax structure) seems to indicate that you advocate the “insider” position.

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libertarian 08.20.10 at 3:57 pm

On snark: it’s more fun this way. quiggin is generally snarky only towards those to whom he feels superior, and that is his default assumption for any pseudonymous commentator. I am not expecting any in-kind snark to have much of an effect; more for my own satisfaction.

But I don’t understand how saying that makes you an “outsider” as that view seems very well represented in various power clusters in the USA.

That is not so clear to me. However, my views are “outside” the mainstream climate-science position, which is what I meant by “outsider”.

As for being on the “insider” political position: I’d agree with you if you were talking about the Bush administration, but the current administration’s position seems to be something along the lines of “the rubes are too dumb, too bigoted, and too short-sighted to understand why we need to cap carbon emissions, so we need to find a way to foist it on them regardless”.

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odaiwai 08.20.10 at 4:24 pm

As an aside to some of the earlier comments on this post, I’m always amused by those who view Hong Kong as a Libertarian Paradise.

Here in HK, we have:
– a very efficient and inexpensive public health system (about USD 12.5 per day for hospital stays);
– very efficient and cheap public transport;
– a public housing system which caters for quite a large percentage of the population;
– probably the most disciplined and least corrupt police force in Asia (and certain parts of Europe, and the US too, probably);
– compulsory registration of all citizens and residents with quite strict border controls; and
– a huge and highly paid Civil Service (best paid in the world, I think).

On the actual libertarian side, it is very easy to start a small business here, as long as you don’t try and compete with the big companies, and your tax bill won’t be more than about 16% thanks to some very profitable companies actually paying their taxes thanks to a simple (but progressive) tax regime. And there isn’t a minimum wage (yet: coming soon at about USD 3.80 per hour!), so you can fantasize that you’re taking advantage of cheap labour (who have subsidised housing, healthcare, travel, and security).

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Walt 08.20.10 at 4:56 pm

Libertarian, you are helping to ensure that when the crisis comes that it will be too late to resort to market solutions. and that climate change will have to be addressed by the heavy hand of the government. As a pro-market person, this makes me sad, but if I were a socialist I’d be very excited by your contribution in discrediting markets as a solution to human problems.

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libertarian 08.20.10 at 5:10 pm

Walt, you are quite right: we want to avoid heavy-handed government interference unless we are quite sure we need them. But cap and trade, pigovian taxes, etc are heavy-handed government interference.

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Walt 08.20.10 at 5:24 pm

Oh, we’re going to end up with a much heavier hand of government than that. And you did your part to bring it about.

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WhoIsLibertarian 08.20.10 at 6:17 pm

“But cap and trade, pigovian taxes, etc are heavy-handed government interference.”

Compare 104 and 105. Myles and libertarian need to straighten this out among them libertarians. This thread has only 316 comments so plenty of space left.

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libertarian 08.20.10 at 6:27 pm

Oh, we’re going to end up with a much heavier hand of government than that. And you did your part to bring it about.

Not on current evidence. A 0.6C rise from a 50% increase in CO2, if we are measuring temperature correctly (which we’re probably not) and if all the warming attributable to CO2 (which it probably is not).

But there’s hysteresis due to big time-constants in the oceans, so let’s say those “ifs” are offset by lagging warming still to come from a warmer ocean. On that assumption, the warming we’ve seen so far gives an estimate of log(2) / log(1.5) * 0.6 = 1C for a doubling of CO2. Remarkably close to the no-feedback number you get from purely radiative considerations.

So “back-of-the-envelope” estimates give no cause for alarm. And on first-principles it is highly unlikely that a warm planet exhibits the large, positive feedbacks needed to support the alarmist position, else we would have seen unstable if not runaway greenhouse at some point in earth’s history.

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engels 08.20.10 at 8:54 pm

I hate to be the one to break it to you, Walt, but our Communist plot to destroy capitalism is now entering its second and final phase.

Libertarian, you _will_ be amply rewarded on your return to Moscow but for now could you please ratchet it down a bit? We wanted a catastrophic breakdown in the system that leaves the way clear for revolution, not to destroy the planet altogether.

Spaseeba!

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Freshly Squeezed Cynic 08.20.10 at 9:22 pm

Sorry to disappoint you, bianca, but I was actually making a joke about the baffling impulse that some right-wingers seem to have, where they formulate policy and argument primarily by how much it is likely in their mind to piss off the liberal-left. (this can be the only explaination for Liberal Fascism, for instance.)

I believe this is a debating strategy, to try to make some kind of fatuous point about how we are not as “tolerant” as the strawman liberal in their head, but it just means that they end up looking like utter pricks.

I freely admit I remain confused by how this applies to Billy Joel and 25$ lipstick.

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Jamey 08.21.10 at 3:13 am

I have numerous objections to libertarian thinking but one of the main ones I have is that if you were actually to take their vision of the state seriously, in order to have a society that doesn’t collapse you would need a greater than usual level of cooperative effort in the private sphere, civil society, whatever you want to call it. Some libertarians will pay lip service to this when you raise various objections, “Of course, civic organizations, charities can do that.” It all sounds suspiciously like something added as a PR afterthought so as not to sound to much like Ebeneezer Scrooge.

The problem I have is that the types of personalities most attracted to libertarian thinking is that they are precisely the sorts of persons who have zero interest in such private cooperative enterprises. And even if they were, I think this ignores the realities of the modern world. Most of us do not live in Little House on the Prairie. The type of small town world view and reality that would take to support a minimal state doesn’t exist in very many places.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.21.10 at 4:45 am

Libertarian #318: “And on first-principles it is highly unlikely that a warm planet exhibits the large, positive feedbacks needed to support the alarmist position, else we would have seen unstable if not runaway greenhouse at some point in earth’s history.”

–No, unless “first principles” exclude evidence and logic. We know that there has been extreme climate in the past, and we know there were mass extinction events with possible climate components. On the other hand, we might not have evidence: if climate events have been enough to kill 90% of all individual plants and animals over one or two years, such as by enough forest fires to block the sunlight, and then the skies cleared and the species recovered, we might not notice this in the fossil record — though the same conditions would be enough to destroy human civilization in the process. What does it mean to release CO2 out of sequence of past warming events? Where did the other CO2 come from, before? Is it still in the pipeline?

Libertarian #309 “I simply disagree that we have enough information to decide the ‘if’.

–This won’t fly. Libertarians don’t receive a “get out of jail free” card just because things are intractable. You are simply ignoring the information. We describe possible bad events, we relegate them to a tail by sing mathematical syllogisms, but the risk calculation isn’t valid. Risk works for pricing assets in financial markets and insurance companies because they already have lots of accurate prior knowledge. In climate change, this doesn’t apply — and it doesn’t apply even if you only restrict it to climate sensitivity, which is another mistake. Temperature is not the only problem. If we have knowledge that, for example, parts of the world will desertify, this is first-order information. If dried forests allow more forest fires, it is first-order information. If CO2 concentration changes ocean acidity faster than natural selection can allow new species to provision the bottom of the fish food-chain, it is first-order information. In fact, you don’t need much more heat to start any of these. Yet we are immediately confronted with n-body computation problems in trying to model it. In this mess, statistics is just another anecdote. It can’t decide the policy problems, and you can’t “simply” disagree.

P.S. As before, your argument is ALSO trumped by the role of innovation in growth economics, which almost guarantees good outcomes. You apparently hope to avoid acknowledging this, because you wrote at # 315, “But cap and trade, pigovian taxes, etc are heavy-handed government interference.”

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Lee A. Arnold 08.22.10 at 1:46 am

I should have typed, “we relegate bad events to a tail by USING mathematical syllogisms.” Or perhaps it should be, singing mathematicized syllogisms. Anyway a rather weak entailment of ideas not robust of real ecological evidence. Though libertarians are not the only ones guilty of this.

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PaulB 08.22.10 at 2:34 pm

libertarian 309: “That said, we’re already running the experiment and it is not supporting the models. We will get the answer without having to go the whole way. It would just be made a whole lot easier if the people charged with getting the answer were more honest and were not pushing their own policy agenda.”

Most of the dishonest propaganda, on both side, comes from the non-scientists. The climate scientists themselves tend to present their results in measured tones and are almost unanimous in thinking that anthropogenic global warming is a serious concern.

It’s plausible to suppose that the climate is in a metastable equilibrium. That is, for small changes, feedback is negative. That is why the climate has not changed much since the beginning of human civilization. But for large changes, feedback becomes positive until a new equilibrium is reached, which is why the climate has varied greatly during the life of the planet.

We can make very rough estimates of the temperature effect of human generation of greenhouse gases by observing global temperature changes. But those estimates apply only right now. They do not tell us what’s safe for the future.

It’s like standing a book on its end and pushing at the top. By the time it starts falling over, it’s too late to stop pushing.

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libertarian 08.22.10 at 6:52 pm

The problem I have is that the types of personalities most attracted to libertarian thinking is that they are precisely the sorts of persons who have zero interest in such private cooperative enterprises.

Jamey, conservatives give way more to private charity that do liberals. I don’t have statistics for libertarians but I imagine that also holds true.

It’s plausible to suppose that the climate is in a metastable equilibrium.

I agree. But I think the metastability works differently.

When the planet is cold (ice ages), it is also dry (cold air holds less water), and cloud cover is less affected by temperature changes (cold to slightly-less-cold is not enough to affect the clouds when there is not a whole lot of evaporation going on anyway), so feedback from increased water vapor is large and positive. Feedback is also large and positive from ice-albedo, so you have a doubly-whammy, which allows very small changes in radiative forcing due to orbital oscillations to cause large changes in temperature.

When the planet is warm, the air is moister, so incremental increases in water-vapor have less impact on temperature than during the ice ages. It is also plausible that cloud cover is more dramatically affected by heating in a warmer planet, because you are in a high-evaporation phase. So you’d expect feedbacks to reduce or even become negative as the planet warms.

This explains why the climate is stable and yet the earth can oscillate between ice-ages and warm periods.

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PaulB 08.22.10 at 9:54 pm

You haven’t got a PhD in Control Theory have you?

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