Three Shalt Thou Count

The debates in the comments section of my Koch post have gotten me thinking about the different ways in which vulgar libertarianism operates. I think there are three.

Big Business

1) First, there’s the use of libertarian slogans as mere rhetorical covering for corporatist policies. This kind of vulgar libertarianism is standard Republican territory, and in this case “vulgar” acts as an alienating adjective (scroll halfway down); this sort of vulgar libertarianism is not libertarianism at all, any more than counterfeit money is money, a decoy duck is a duck, or a fake Rembrandt is a Rembrandt.

2) Next, there’s the mistake of thinking that libertarian principles justify various big-business-favourable features of the present economy that are actually the result of government privilege rather than market factors (or are so to a greater degree than is realised). This mistake is often made by people who sincerely advocate libertarian policies that would in fact (if we left-libertarians are right) undermine big business more than such advocates realise – and who would continue to advocate them even if they realised this. In this kind of vulgar libertarianism, “vulgar” isn’t alienating; the policies being advocated are genuinely libertarian, but those advocating them have blundered into making their product look less appealing (to ordinary people) than it actually is. In such cases vulgar libertarianism is less like a decoy duck than like a sick duck.

3) The third kind of vulgar libertarianism is a bit more complex. Here the problem is that even if one is advocating the right policies, mistaken views about the likely results of those policies can lead one into mistakes about what counts as a reasonable transitional step toward liberty. For example, suppose that I overestimate the extent to which Megacorp’s success is due to market factors rather than government privilege, and so I mistakenly predict that Megacorp will do much better in a freed market than it is doing now (whereas in fact it would do much worse) . Then I will tend to regard a policy that greatly lowers Megacorp’s tax burden without much lowering anyone else’s as a step in the right direction, and will be inclined to advocate it – whereas if I recognised the extent to which Megacorp is the beneficiary of direct and indirect subsidies at the expense of ordinary taxpayers, I might instead regard the policy as an increased subsidy. Thus conflationist beliefs lead to corporatist practice. (This would be an instance of application thickness.) By contrast with case (2), then, I end up endorsing objectively corporatist policies in addition to libertarian ones; though in contrast with case (1) the libertarian commitments remain sincere. Here the duck is so sick that it’s starting to mutate; how mutated the duck has to get before it no longer counts as a duck is a tricky question.

The boundaries among these three varieties aren’t hard and fast; perhaps they’re best thought of as regions of a spectrum, with (1) and (2) at opposite ends and (3) in the middle. Part of what I’ve been arguing in the Koch case is that it’s a mistake to infer from the Kochs’ not being at (2) that they must be at (1); I find a position closer to (3) at least as plausible a reading, especially given Charles Koch’s declaration that his recent activism is driven by a desire to see some concrete social change in his lifetime. (Admittedly, to the extent that the Kochs’ own economic interests have helped smooth their path from (2) to (3), their (3)-ness may be classified as a bit further toward (1) than would otherwise be the case.) I also find (3) a plausible diagnosis of some libertarian anti-immigration arguments.

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79 Responses to Three Shalt Thou Count

  1. MBH August 30, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

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    I totally agree with the framing, but I want to argue the conclusion — the tricky area. So, the question is at what point does (3) get too close to (1) and no longer count as “libertarianism”. To move too close to (1) from (3), I think, you’d have to see an indifference as to whether or not libertarian ideas are expressed as thoughts or as memes. So while you would still (think that you) believe in libertarianism in principle, you wouldn’t mind reaching your vision of it by hoodwinking people with non-libertarian methods. That kind of advocacy alienates “libertarian” — it’s not coherent to say you want a libertarian world by obstructing free thought; memed libertarianism is not libertarianism. Here is where astro-turfing the tea party is an instance of the indifference between thoughts and memes. And that decidedly turns a mutating duck into something other than a duck.

    • MBH August 30, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

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      Oh, and in case my point isn’t clear, the Koch brothers bankroll the tea party.

    • Roderick August 30, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

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      If you mean “memes” literally (in the sense of a discrete, empirically identifiable unit of transmittable informational content), I don’t believe in ’em. If you mean “memes” metaphorically, the metaphor is generally taken to include “thoughts.” If you mean “memes” in some nonstandard metaphoric way, what is it?

      • MBH August 30, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

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        Literally. How do you not believe in ‘em?

        • Roderick August 30, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

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          For (somewhat different) objections to meme-talk, see Charles Johnson and Robert Campbell.

        • MBH August 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

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          Yeah, I don’t mean “meme” as self-replicating bits of culture. My understanding of “meme” is the exact opposite. Dawkins thinks of them as a positive transmission. “Memes”, as I understand them, are transmitted through repetition. The “ground-zero mosque” is a “meme” in that sense. And this use of “meme” is necessarily thoughtless — like you said, it’s really a non-ground-zero non-mosque.

          I associate those sorts of memes with a majority of the tea party crowd. And given the funding and organization by the Kochs, I think they implicitly consent to the use of these sorts of memes. And that makes them closer to (1) than you might want to say.

          P.S. I apologize to Charles for using the word “meme”; I notice he isn’t too fond of it. But I hope he’ll forgive me, since it’s been swiped from Dawkins to mean, in some ways, the exact opposite of what Dawkins foolishly thought.

        • Rad Geek August 30, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

          Chromium 7.0.502.0 Ubuntu 10.04

          MBH:

          Yeah, I don’t mean “meme” as self-replicating bits of culture. My understanding of “meme” is the exact opposite. Dawkins thinks of them as a positive transmission. “Memes”, as I understand them, are transmitted through repetition. The “ground-zero mosque” is a “meme” in that sense. And this use of “meme” is necessarily thoughtless … I apologize to Charles for using the word “meme”; I notice he isn’t too fond of it. But I hope he’ll forgive me, since it’s been swiped from Dawkins to mean, in some ways, the exact opposite of what Dawkins foolishly thought.

          Actually, this sounds more or less exactly like the use of “meme” to provide pseudoscientific cover for wildly uncharitable interpretations of your target’s motives, which I criticized towards the end of my piece:

          A would-be memeticist might try to avoid the dilemma by claiming that my second horn depends on an overly rosy view of the average human being’s rationality. Is it really wrong to say that a lot of customs, slogans, etc. aren’t the products of reason? But that would just be a cheat: there’s a difference between explaining a cultural product by reference to bad reasons people have for adopting it, and explaining it without reference to any reasons people have for adopting it. Among the things I said you have to understand in order to understand how some beliefs and ideas spread are things like deceiving and confusing and misdirecting. It’s certainly true that there are some beliefs—superstitions, for example—that persist because people adopt them for bad reasons. But a memetic account that refers only to the bad reasons that a person might have for adopting a belief is no less vacuous than a memetic account that refers to all the reasons they might have had; it’s still entirely parasitic on our understanding of people’s reasons for spreading certain beliefs. The only difference is that it is also less charitable, and so more likely to be false. In fact, this precise confusion seems to be at the root of many if not most memetic accounts: since you can’t intelligibly give an account of cultural practices under option (2), but the memeticist wants to avoid explanations that are obviously entirely parasitic on an understanding of logic and psychology, they try to cheat their way into (2) by restricting the range of reasons that they’ll consider to the bad ones. I think this goes a long way toward explaining, for example, the common memetic explanation for widespread norms for altruism by appeal to the likelihood that people who get the meal will listen to the sermon, or that mutual back-scratching will benefit the scratchers. It’s certainly true that these may be part of the reason why people exhort others to be nice, and listen to others who so exhort them. But why not also explain the widespread norms by reference to, say, the notion that humans can see it’s true that they have a duty to be generous and not cruel? The past century of psychoanalysis and secularism notwithstanding, the fact that an explanation of human behavior is ennobling isn’t always a good reason to regard it as false.

          I’d note that your use of “thoughtless” also seems to be making use of more or less exactly the same cheat (of trying to talk about ideas that are “thoughtless” in the sense of being ill-reasoned as if they were “thoughtless” in the sense of being arational. Which is a handy way of evading the responsibility to engage thoughtfully with your interlocutor’s position; but doesn’t go very far towards explaining real human thought or action.

          Incidentally, Dawkins certainly does not believe that all “memes” are “positive transmissions.” His reasons for inventing the term are a bit convoluted (it was originally a tentative suggestion intended to distance himself from accusations of biological determinism), but predictably enough, after other writers began taking the terminology seriously, Dawkins was happy to make use of it for polemical purposes, e.g. by classifying religious beliefs and rituals as mind-viruses. The use of parasitic or viral metaphors to denigrate ideas the “memeticist” considers to be false or harmful is almost certainly the modal use for meme-talk (*), and Dawkins is as good (or bad) an example of that practice as any.

          (*) I mean, among people who actually believe in memes; not counting people who just use “meme” to mean silly Internet games or videos you heard about through the grapevine.

        • MBH August 30, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

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          So how would you categorize “ground-zero mosque”?

        • Rad Geek August 30, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

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          MBH,

          I’d classify “ground-zero mosque” as a noun phrase.

          Did you mean to ask me something about how that noun phrase has become widespread in political talk, even though the thing allegedly picked out by it is neither at “ground zero,” nor a mosque? If so, I’d say it probably depends on the person using the term, and you probably ought to ask them how they came to settle on that phrase. I imagine you’ll find that some people use it out of ignorance, either simple or wilful; others have more or less elaborate rationalizations for why it’s an apt description; some people just don’t give much of a damn about accuracy; etc. No doubt a lot of it has to do with the kinds of intellectual vices and political abuses of language that Orwell described in “Politics and the English Language.” All of which I think will go a lot further towards explaining something worth explaining than “memes” will.

          In any case, I certainly do not think that the aptness of the phrase “ground zero mosque” is the most important issue in that whole idiotic shouting match. The most important issue are (1) the direct effort to associate all Muslims, just as such, with the actions of a specific group of Islamist terrorists, for the purpose of collective blame; and (2) the substantive arguments being given to the effect that the sensitivities of American nationalists are legitimate grounds for violently suppressing other people’s private property rights and free exercise of religion. Most people who believe in belligerent nationalism, religious intolerance and overt tyranny are still going to believe in those things with or without the specific phrase “ground zero mosque,” and I think there’s a lot more to be gained by challenging the substance of the argument, rather than trying to come up with polemical explanations of people’s reasons for using and spreading the noun phrase.

        • MBH August 30, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

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          You don’t see any benefit to further specifying what kind of noun phrase abuses language? I’ll agree that “meme” is inappropriate to reference that. But, I’d assume you’d agree that these kinds of noun phrases serve as vehicles for intolerance and the like. No?

        • MBH August 30, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

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          And obviously I’m not just talking about noun phrases, but words and strings of words in general.

        • MBH August 30, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

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          And obviously by “vehicle” I don’t mean to imply that it is the sole means of transmission, but at the very least, a wheel greaser.

        • MBH August 30, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

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          And I see where you’ve already addressed that. Oops. But my main concern remains. If the Kochs fund projects that are guilty of language abuse, how does that not put them close, if not in, the category of (1)?

        • Rad Geek August 31, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

          Chromium 7.0.502.0 Ubuntu 10.04

          MBH: You don’t see any benefit to further specifying what kind of noun phrase abuses language?

          I have no problem with discussing abuses of language in general terms. (After all, I happily recommend Orwell’s essay, which is just that.) What I don’t see any benefit to are discussions that depend on false claims about people’s reasons (whether those reasons are good, bad or ugly) for using language in particular ways, or for encouraging others to do so.

          But, I’d assume you’d agree that these kinds of noun phrases serve as vehicles for intolerance and the like. No?

          Of course pithy expressions of a sentiment can help strengthen the sentiment, and to obscure objections to it that might otherwise be obvious. It’s often worth showing how certain uses of language serve to obscure, confuse, mislead, deceive, etc. But in doing so it’s essential that you be able to talk about the human defects, faults or vices — whether in the speaker, or the hearer, or their relationship to one another — that make those uses possible; which is exactly the kind of consideration about “hosts” that “memetics” deliberately tries to abstract away from. And it’s also essential to remember that that kind of Sprachkritik should be used in order to elucidate what’s wrong with an argumentative move; it shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to engage with the substantive arguments that that kind of language is being used to advance.

          If the Kochs fund projects that are guilty of language abuse, how does that not put them close, if not in, the category of (1)?

          I don’t understand the question. Certainly both positions that come under (1) and positions that come under (3) can involve conceptual confusions, and the accompanying abuses of language, can’t they? (Worries about “application thickness,” in particular, are primarily worries about the ripple-effects of a conceptual confusion on the ability to apply libertarian principles to real-world situations.)

        • MBH August 31, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

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          I find your arguments against the use of memes compelling.

          I don’t understand the question. Certainly both positions that come under (1) and positions that come under (3) can involve conceptual confusions, and the accompanying abuses of language, can’t they?

          I can understand how corporatism and a genuine libertarian commitment can coexist — as flimsy as that may be. But I do think that intentionally abusing language or funding projects that abuse language cannot coexist with a genuine libertarian commitment. In those cases, I think, you’ve got something in between (1) and (3) and it sure as hell isn’t a duck.

          So no, I don’t think language-abuse can accompany (3). “Language-abusing” is an alienating adjective. You can talk about “language-abusing libertarianism” so long as you know it’s not a kind of libertarianism. Are you claiming that “language-abusing” is not an alienating adjective alongside “libertarianism”?

        • MBH August 31, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

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          I understand that language-abuse caused by conceptual confusion is consistent with genuine libertarian commitments. But, to put a finer point on it, I don’t think that intentional language-abuse or willful language-abuse is consistent with genuine libertarian commitments. Would you argue that “willful-language-abusing” is an alienating adjective alongside “libertarianism”?

      • MBH August 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

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        I mistook what you meant by literal. Insofar as that would entail some kind of metaphysical realism, I don’t believe in them either. But the metaphorical use, at least the one I’m familiar with, is an antithesis of thought.

        • MBH August 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

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          I’d say, grammatically, a meme like “Obama is a socialist” is more of a style or a fad than a thought.

  2. MagnusGoddmunsson August 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

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    Do you have a list of True Libertarians?

  3. Mr Civil Libertarian August 30, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

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    In my experience, a good, quick (if not 100% accurate) way to distinguish vulgar libertarians from the rest is to ask the suspected Vulgar libertarian about what their opinion of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctorine is.

    The Vulgar ones tend to go into a rant about what a socialist stooge she is, whereas non-vulgar ones are either more open minded, or say something like “I agree with the basic premise of the book!”.

    • Mr Civil Libertarian August 30, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

      Chromium 5.0.375.125 Linux

      *sigh*. Spot the typo….

      My bad.

    • Roderick August 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

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      I still prefer to apply “vulgar libertarian” to particular positions and tendencies rather than to individuals. Very few libertarians are consistently vulgar.

      • Micha Ghertner August 31, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

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        Roderick,

        I bet we could agree on some consistently vulgar libertarians coming out of the ARIan camp, but they don’t self-identify as libertarian, so perhaps that solves the dilemma even before it begins.

    • Micha Ghertner August 31, 2010 at 10:17 pm #

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      Mr Civil Libertarian,

      Your test would fail to distinguish vulgar libertarian from non if you applied it to someone like Kevin Carson, who initially agreed with the basic premise of the book, but later found Klein to be something akin to a state socialist stooge (or so I paraphrase).

  4. KP August 30, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

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    So, if the opportunity arises where you could have Megacorp’s, but only Megacorp’s, tax burden lowered the (non-vulgar) libertarian response is to do what?

    • Brandon August 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

      Chromium 7.0.509.0 Ubuntu 10.04

      My own view is that it would be one less injustice in the world, so I would be OK with it, just as I’d be fine with a celebrity megababe who’d been pulled over by the cops for speeding or something being let off scott free just because she’s a celebrity megababe.

      • KP August 30, 2010 at 8:12 pm #

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        I’m inclined to agree with you, allowing one slave to be freed while the others remain enslaved certainly sounds better than keeping them all enslaved. However, I’ve read others (on both the left and right) argue against this as an unacceptable form of “favoratism.”
        However, I’m still unsure as to what the (non-vulgar) libertarian response is.

        • Roderick August 30, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

          Safari MacIntosh

          To the extent that Megacorp is the beneficiary of government privilege, it’s not a slave, it’s a master, and taxing it is just a transaction within the ruling class. If ceasing to tax it means taxing the real slaves more, it’s not so great.

    • KP August 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

      Chrome 5.0.375.127 Windows Vista

      “To the extent that Megacorp is the beneficiary of government privilege, it’s not a slave, it’s a master, and taxing it is just a transaction within the ruling class.”
      Right and to the extent that an indentured servant is the beneficiary of owner privilege, he’s not a bound, he’s free and collecting the fruits of his labor is just a transaction within the owner class.
      So the correct libertarian response is to allow him to leave or make him stay?
      “If ceasing to tax it means taxing the real slaves more, it’s not so great.”
      Does it necessarily have to mean that? Couldn’t it just be taxed less (or not at all) without a corresponding increase in taxes for others? Obviously, you could extend this line of thinking to pretty much all tax breaks.
      Are (specific) tax breaks libertarian?

      • Roderick August 30, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

        Safari MacIntosh

        So the correct libertarian response is to allow him to leave or make him stay?

        Allow him to leave, of course; but then if he leaves he’s no longer occupying a position of privilege either.

        Are (specific) tax breaks libertarian?

        It depends. If I tax your competitors but not you, I’m giving you a special privilege at their expense. Whether you’ve lobbied for it or not may make a difference.

        • KP August 30, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

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          “Allow him to leave, of course; but then if he leaves he’s no longer occupying a position of privilege either.”
          No more so than an untaxed corporation. A free smith could charge less than an indentured smith after all.
          “It depends. If I tax your competitors but not you, I’m giving you a special privilege at their expense.”
          But we are all competitors. For example, due to tax laws, a married man can keep more of his earning than a single man, therefore the married man is being given special privileges.
          If I’m reading you correctly, the non-vulgar response to my question would be to continue taxing the corporation. Correct?

        • Roderick August 30, 2010 at 11:49 pm #

          Safari MacIntosh

          If I’m reading you correctly, the non-vulgar response to my question would be to continue taxing the corporation. Correct?

          No, the correct non-vulgar response would be to abolish the taxes and the privileges together. But as libertarians we are generally not in the position to decide what to abolish; instead what we generally get to decide is what attitude to take toward, and what agitations to promote concerning, what the government does. So we can point out that unjust policy A is not really an improvement over unjust policy B even though it might look like it; but we shouldn’t be advocating either of them.

        • KP August 31, 2010 at 11:27 am #

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          “No, the correct non-vulgar response would be to abolish the taxes and the privileges together.”
          That wasn’t an option in the question presented though. Again, if the opportunity came where one could remove/reduce Megacorp’s tax burden, but only Megacorp’s tax burden the non-vulgar libertarian response would be to what?
          Obviously, you can still point out that policy A, reducing their tax burden, is still unjust as is policy B, their tax burden remaining, but which policy is better?

        • Roderick August 31, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

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          which policy is better?

          It depends on the circumstances.

          In some sense I think this is the wrong question to ask, though — because it approaches it from the standpoint of what we as libertarians should do if we get (partial) control of the government. Not to say that such hypothetical questions don’t have some theoretical interest — but I think libertarian social change is likely to be more a bottom-up affair, a matter of withdrawing consent and building alternative institutions, and so these fine-grained top-down policy decisions aren’t going to be ones that we need to be making.

        • KP August 31, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

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          “It depends on the circumstances.”
          So in this case?

          (You’re absolutely right that such a scenario is purely theoretical and it won’t ever actually occur, it is still useful for narrowing down libertarianism)

        • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

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          So in this case?

          This case is underdescribed.

      • KP September 5, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

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        I’m not sure how but I’ll try and re-phrase the question more descriptively.

        Let’s say you have the option of deciding, say, Seventh Generation, permanent tax-free status but only Seventh Generation. Their decrease in taxes won’t be offset by a tax hike for everyone else (the government will just collect less taxes overall). Is the libertarian response to keep them paying extortion fees like everyone else or to give them privilege (comparatively) and release them?

        (Why you have the option I don’t know, maybe Obama enjoyed Oscar of Oscarville.)

  5. MagnusGoddmunso August 31, 2010 at 10:25 am #

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    Let see If I understand, a true Libertarian should advocate the end of every tax and privilege, right?

    • Roderick August 31, 2010 at 11:04 am #

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      Yes. But there are cases where we can have the following preference ranking:

      1. Remove both tax and privilege
      2. Keep both tax and privilege
      3. Remove tax, keep privilege

      as opposed to:

      1. Remove both tax and privilege
      2. Remove tax, keep privilege
      3. Keep both tax and privilege

      • MBH September 7, 2010 at 7:29 am #

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        Like, say, America in the year 2010.

  6. AFH August 31, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

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    Forgive my ignorance late in the conversation. Some of what is posted here seems tied to other posts and conversations that I have not thoroughly reviewed. That being said I think I understand the author’s point, agree and would like to share my understanding for review.

    Why is it that the tax and the privilege in the example are mutually associated? They seem separable to me. Artificially conflating them in thought experiment (and mistakenly calling over simplification practical exercise) does not lend to finding just solutions for one or the other or both.

    Solving one and not the other at one point in time does not mean that that the gestalt is frozen forever. The idea of a “sum” of the effect after passing through the metaphorical invisible hand is illusion in terms of justice. It requires near omniscience to comprehend fully and still falls into subjective assessment.

    It seems to me that the conflation of issues, is the number three vulgarity: The over thinking, over rationalization, the intellectual entangling of forces connected only by market relationship. It smacks of the same holistically projected hubris that makes me critical of thoughtless regurgitators of Keynes… only it is turned inside out and called libertarian.

    • Roderick August 31, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

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      Why is it that the tax and the privilege in the example are mutually associated?

      1. While government restraints on private activity tend to be bad, restrictions by one part of government on another are often good (checks and balances).

      2. The more privileges a nominally private entity receives from government, the more it shifts from being a private entity (something it’s prima facie bad to restrict) to being an arm of the state (something it’s prima facie good to restrict).

      3. Hence the evaluation of a particular governmental restraint on some entity cannot be disentangled from an assessment of what privileges it receives.

      Solving one and not the other at one point in time does not mean that that the gestalt is frozen forever. The idea of a “sum” of the effect after passing through the metaphorical invisible hand is illusion in terms of justice. It requires near omniscience to comprehend fully and still falls into subjective assessment.

      It seems to me that the conflation of issues, is the number three vulgarity: The over thinking, over rationalization, the intellectual entangling of forces connected only by market relationship. It smacks of the same holistically projected hubris that makes me critical of thoughtless regurgitators of Keynes… only it is turned inside out and called libertarian.

      I’m not quite sure what those last two paragraphs mean.

      • KP August 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

        Chrome 5.0.375.127 Windows Vista

        “The more privileges a nominally private entity receives from government, the more it shifts from being a private entity (something it’s prima facie bad to restrict) to being an arm of the state (something it’s prima facie good to restrict).”
        Why would an untaxed entity simply become an arm of the state? Could it not just be an anomaly.

        • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

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          Why would an untaxed entity simply become an arm of the state? Could it not just be an anomaly.

          That’s why it depends on the circumstances; the case is underdescribed.

  7. MBH August 31, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

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    Roderick, I raise this issue with Charles, but I’m curious about your take too. Is it fair to talk about a fourth vulgar libertarian operation — one in between (1) and (3)? That is, corporatists who take themselves to have genuine libertarian commitments but simultaneously advocate willful language-abuse as a means. Wouldn’t you agree that “willful language-abusing” is an alienating adjective alongside “libertarianism”? And wouldn’t you agree that, whereas (1) has no illusions about their lack of commitment to actual libertarianism, (4) would mistakenly believe itself to be genuinely committed to libertarianism?

    • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

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      Wouldn’t you agree that “willful language-abusing” is an alienating adjective alongside “libertarianism”?

      No, it doesn’t seem alienating. Using abuse of language as a means isn’t like using aggression as a means; it doesn’t per se count against one’s being a libertarian. It makes one a bad libertarian — and indeed, not just a libertarian who happens to be bad, but arguably bad qua libertarian, for thickness reasons. But thickness is about what libertarians are reasonably committed to qua libertarian, which isn’t the same thing as the requirements for counting as being a libertarian. (If we were to expand the requirements for counting as a libertarian to be the same as the values thickly associated with it, those associations wouldn’t be “thick” any more, and we’d lose the whole point of the thick/thin distinction.)

      • MBH September 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

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        Wouldn’t “derivative positive rights denying” be alienating alongside “libertarian”?

        • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.19.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

          It would be closer, since it concerns the correct application of the NAP. But I don’t think we should say that anyone who fails to apply the NAP correctly automatically ceases to be a libertarian. (Otherwise we would be legislating out of existence the possibility of disputes among libertarians as to how to apply the NAP.) Not every deviation makes one a nonlibertarian — though enough of them do.

          In any case, there really aren’t very many instances of derivative positive rights denying libertarians. Once the meaning of it is explained (my meaning, that is — not some expanded consequentialist meaning), most libertarians in my experience say: “Oh, ok, sure, if you want to call it that.”

        • MBH September 1, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

          Firefox 3.6.8 Ubuntu 10.04

          If that’s closer, then how close would “negative rights denying” be to alienating “libertarian”? I would assume you still want to qualify it as “enough negative rights denying” to be truly alienating.

          I’d also assume you consider fraud to be the violation of the negative right not be hoodwinked, deceived, or tricked. And so enough fraudulent practices would disqualify one from being libertarian. Willful-language-abuse is an instance of fraud, and so enough willful-language-abuse would disqualify one from being libertarian.

          So how many systemic and willful-language-abuses do the Kochs have to commit before you admit they’re fake libertarians? How many more systemic judgments of writings based on the number of times “Hayek”, “Friedman”, and “Rand” appear will it take? How many more sponsorships of “reclaim[ing] the civil rights movement”?

          As Frank Rich says, “inexorably the Koch agenda is morphing into the G.O.P. agenda.” I know you feel torn because of all they did for you. But they’ve changed. I disagree with Rich that they’re morphing. They’ve morphed… already.

        • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.19.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

          I’d also assume you consider fraud to be the violation of the negative right not be hoodwinked, deceived, or tricked.

          No, there’s no negative right not to be hoodwinked, deceived, or tricked. There’s a negative right not to be defrauded, but that’s not the same thing; see here and here.

          I know you feel torn

          I don’t feel torn. My reaction is complex because what I’m reacting to is complex. Be wary of the impulse to reach for psychological explanations when confronted with arguments you disagree with.

          I disagree with Rich that they’re morphing.

          Rich doesn’t say they’re morphing. Reread the context of that quote again; while his wording is awkward and suggests that he means the Kochs are changing to become like the GOP, what he actually means by that phrase is clearly that the GOP is changing to become like the Kochs.

        • MBH September 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

          Firefox 3.6.8 Ubuntu 10.04

          You’re right about the Rich article. But I still want to contend that the Koch agenda is not libertarian.

          As to fraud: I know that you want to avoid the position that all contracts are enforceable. But, when you engage in dialogue, you’re implicitly agreeing to do so in good faith — without ulterior motives. That’s a pretty legitimate form of a contract, even if there isn’t any signing or witnesses. That’s just what it is to interact in a thoughtful way. To keep up the impression that you’re interacting in a thoughtful way, but to simultaneously push a certain ulterior motive, is not to interact thoughtfully yet deceptively. It’s to break the implicit contract of thoughtful interaction. And to do so in a supposedly intellectual organization like the ihs is doubly bad.

          Libertarianism in which supposedly thoughtful interaction is undermined by ulterior motives is not libertarianism. No?

        • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

          Safari MacIntosh

          I know that you want to avoid the position that all contracts are enforceable.

          No, I think all contracts are enforceable. It’s just that a) not all agreements are contracts, and b) for those agreements that are contracts, the appropriate method of enforcement is sometimes damages rather than specific performance.

          when you engage in dialogue, you’re implicitly agreeing to do so in good faith — without ulterior motives. That’s a pretty legitimate form of a contract, even if there isn’t any signing or witnesses.

          No, this agreement isn’t a contract. What it lacks is not “signing or witnesses” but rather a consideration. It’s the transfer of title that converts a mere agreement (unenforceable) to a contract (enforceable) — for the reasons Rothbard gives in the piece I linked to.

          And to do so in a supposedly intellectual organization like the ihs is doubly bad.
          Libertarianism in which supposedly thoughtful interaction is undermined by ulterior motives is not libertarianism.

          Being bad, even being bad on thick-libertarian grounds, is not the same as being non-libertarian. Otherwise, as I said above, we lose the thin/thick distinction.

        • MBH September 1, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

          Firefox 3.6.8 Ubuntu 10.04

          Being bad, even being bad on thick-libertarian grounds, is not the same as being non-libertarian.

          But being thoughtless or advancing thoughtless projects enough is being non-libertarian. Would you agree that “thoughtless” is alienating alongside “libertarian”?

      • Roderick September 2, 2010 at 1:14 am #

        Safari MacIntosh

        Would you agree that “thoughtless” is alienating alongside “libertarian”?

        No; being thoughtless is not per se a rights-violation.

        • MBH September 2, 2010 at 1:33 am #

          Firefox 3.6.8 Ubuntu 10.04

          …being thoughtless is not per se a rights-violation.

          Thoughtless per se entails negligence and negligence is a rights-violation.

        • Roderick September 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.19.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

          Thoughtless per se entails negligence and negligence is a rights-violation.

          That’s absurd. Negligence counts as a rights-violation only in specific circumstances. You’re just playing random word-association games now.

        • MBH September 2, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

          Firefox 3.6.8 Ubuntu 10.04

          Not at all. Thoughtlessness will entail all those specific circumstances.

        • MBH September 2, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

          Firefox 3.6.8 Ubuntu 10.04

          Or I should say, all those specific circumstances will entail thoughtlessness.

        • Roderick September 3, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.19.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

          Not at all. Thoughtlessness will entail all those specific circumstances.

          Or I should say, all those specific circumstances will entail thoughtlessness.

          Well, it matters which it is. The first would make your argument valid, but it’s false. The second is true but won’t make your argument valid.

        • MBH September 4, 2010 at 9:02 am #

          Firefox 3.6.8 Ubuntu 10.04

          For those reasons and others, I abandon “thoughtless” and adopt “psychopathic”. Is “psychopathic” an alienating adjective alongside “libertarian”?

          And if you doubt the use of “psychopathic” then tell me how you would describe funding messaging campaigns that manipulated the emotions of the elderly into fearing systematic murder by the government if HCR passed into law.

  8. Neil August 31, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

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    If one knows what it takes to reach eudaimonia and yet also knows that it is impossible for her to reach, then, ceteris paribus, what point is there in living or at least attempting to stay alive?

    • MBH September 1, 2010 at 6:55 am #

      Firefox 3.6.8 Ubuntu 10.04

      What does it mean to “[know] that it is impossible for her to reach”?

      • Neil September 1, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

        Firefox 3.6.8.NETCLR3.5.30729.NET4.0C Windows Vista

        Well, it would be something much in the way as one would know that it is impossible for oneself to step foot on the moon. People have been there, sure, but this one knows that in fact no matter how hard she tries she will never get there.

        • MBH September 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

          Firefox 3.6.8 Ubuntu 10.04

          You can always refine your conception of Eudaimonia. If one goal is impossible then it is by definition not part of Eudaimonia for you. But that doesn’t mean that striving to attain that goal cannot be a constitutive means of Eudaimonia. The continual process of aiming itself can be worth living for.

        • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

          Firefox 3.0.19.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

          “One thing then has and enjoys the ultimate good, other things attain to it, one immediately by few steps, another by many, while yet another does not even attempt to secure it but is satisfied to reach a point not far removed from that consummation. Thus, taking health as the end, there will be one thing that always possesses health, others that attain it, one by reducing flesh, another by running and thus reducing flesh, another by taking steps to enable himself to run, thus further increasing the number of movements, while another cannot attain health itself, but only running or reduction of flesh, so that one or other of these is for such a being the end. For while it is clearly best for any being to attain the real end, yet, if that cannot be, the nearer it is to the best the better will be its state.” (Aristotle, On the Heaven II. 12)

        • Neil September 2, 2010 at 9:42 am #

          Firefox 3.6.8.NETCLR3.5.30729.NET4.0C Windows Vista

          Thanks!

  9. AFH September 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Firefox 3.6.8 Windows XP

    1. While government restraints on private activity tend to be bad, restrictions by one part of government on another are often good (checks and balances).

    2. The more privileges a nominally private entity receives from government, the more it shifts from being a private entity (something it’s prima facie bad to restrict) to being an arm of the state (something it’s prima facie good to restrict).

    3. Hence the evaluation of a particular governmental restraint on some entity cannot be disentangled from an assessment of what privileges it receives.

    1. Government restriction on a private entity is bad. I agree.

    2. Government privilege turns a private entity into a defacto quasi public entity which is also bad. I also agree.

    3. I disagree that the evaluation as a whole is cogent. Each factor of #1 or #2 in a private entity represents it’s own corruption of justice to be solved.

    I would also say that when you have a combination of #1 and #2 in a private entity, that they add up to a larger problem in justice than just a simple sum. These problems compound. Therefore when you remove one of several of these issues, you reduce the problem as a whole. They are not intrinsically connected as checks and balances, the very concept of such a balance is in itself is prima facie incorrect: Two wrongs do not make a right.

    • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

      Firefox 3.0.19.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

      I would also say that when you have a combination of #1 and #2 in a private entity

      But you can’t have a combination of #1 and #2 in a private entity, since #2 turns it into a no longer private entity.

      the very concept of such a balance is in itself is prima facie incorrect: Two wrongs do not make a right.

      But whether something counts as wrong (or, in cases where it’s wrong, the degree of its wrongness) can depend on whether it’s cancelling out some (other) wrong. When an assessment of the balancing enters into determining whether it’s wrong in the first place, “two wrongs don’t make a right” isn’t relevant as an objection.

    • Brandon September 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

      Chromium 7.0.509.0 Ubuntu 10.04

      Please do not use the <code> tag in that context. Use quotes or blockquotes instead.

      • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

        Firefox 3.0.19.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

        You don’t make clear who that’s directed to.

        • Brandon September 1, 2010 at 7:39 pm #

          Chromium 7.0.512.0 Ubuntu 10.04

          That was a reply to AFH.

  10. AFH September 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    Firefox 3.6.8 Windows XP

    This concept of “balance” is illusion.

    The private entity does not “stop being private”. It is either created by the community, or it is created as a private enterprise. The privilege is still a corruption no matter what other corruptions you tie it to to justify it or pretend that balance is somehow created by it.

    This justification creates circular and self referential arguments. Such as the one often made about immigration:

    1. Preventing people from pursuing their own self determination with force is wrong.

    2. Taking money for charity by force is wrong.

    3. Creating economic situations where a class of people are unable to compete for labor fairly pushes them into strata where they cannot live without charity is wrong (for instance driving healthcare costs up to the point where healthcare is impossible without a “legitimate” job that provides benefits through the application of special privilege to insurance).

    Suddenly these three terrible things that we do in society become together an illusionist argument justifying each other.

    We cant let illegals in because the do not pay taxes but use services… which are wrongly provided by taxing “legitimate” workers to the point where they cannot stomach the idea of “illegals” competing for what is left of their wages after being taxed. In the mean time government enforced cost-plus pricing structures in health insurance widen the gap with the iteration of time over this circular trap of illogical premises.

    Yet you try and solve any one of these issues, and the other two are used to justify keeping it… The impossible task of fixing all three at once becomes the very justification for the existence of each.

    Conflating two evils and pretending they create a good, or a harmonic balance is illogical.

    • Roderick September 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

      Firefox 3.0.19.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

      It is either created by the community, or it is created as a private enterprise.

      What do you mean by “created by the community”?

      The privilege is still a corruption no matter what other corruptions you tie it to to justify it or pretend that balance is somehow created by it.

      Well, yes, but this is an ignoratio. I wasn’t claiming that restricting the privilege justified the privilege. Of course nothing can justify the privilege. I was claiming that the fact that it’s a privilege justifies the restriction on it.

      I agree with what you say about immigration. But I don’t see how it applies to what I said. Your thinking it applies seems to be based on the misunderstanding I described above.

  11. AFH September 1, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

    Firefox 3.6.8 Windows XP

    What do you mean by “created by the community”?

    I would define that as an entity created under the authority of the community (government more specifically) for the purposes of doing work delegated to that community entity. As opposed to a private entity that then contracts to do that work. I am not including the “corporation” that has limited responsibilities but unlimited rights. That is simply an abomination of justice. That community entity might be a police department, or a legislature.

    I agree with what you say about immigration. But I don’t see how it applies to what I said. Your thinking it applies seems to be based on the misunderstanding I described above.

    My not understanding is more than possible. I am probing for understanding, as I mentioned in my first post, much of what you put forward seems based on a common understanding that you and your readers have based on earlier posts. The concept of the “vulgar libertarian” as a whole is not quite clear to me.

    The third type specifically begins to burden my understanding more. In the example, there seems to be an assertion that lack of balance in promoting libertarian thought leads to non-libertarian results. In the Koch case I guess it would be like advocating the reduction of taxes while a privileged case is ignored, that somehow this creates a libertarian loss because the first evil counterbalanced the effects of the second one.

    If I perceive the argument correctly (and thank you very kindly for your patience with my developing understandings), the immigration parallel applies and even illustrates why there would not be a loss.

    I think that these out of balance states, removing the tax but not the privilege or removing the immigration laws but not the welfare creates a state of obviousness around the second problem, enjoins debate and examination because of their imbalance. The intolerable injustice is unmasked by removing the “balancing”factor that on its own is an ethical breach; a force that in reality did not create balance, only redirected the tip into an oscillating pendulum of two wrongs and all the wrong in between.

    • Roderick September 2, 2010 at 1:12 am #

      Safari MacIntosh

      I would define that as an entity created under the authority of the community (government more specifically) for the purposes of doing work delegated to that community entity. As opposed to a private entity that then contracts to do that work.

      a) But in what sense does the government’s creating something count as the community’s creating something?

      b) Why is the past origin of an institution more important than how it functions now? If it turned out that the Supreme Court was once an independent arbitration agency that was later granted monopoly powers, should that change our evaluation of its actions?

      The concept of the “vulgar libertarian” as a whole is not quite clear to me.?

      See Kevin Carson’s discussion here.

      somehow this creates a libertarian loss because the first evil counterbalanced the effects of the second one.?

      But that description presupposes that whether a policy counts as an evil can be identified independently of context.

      Is it wrong to shoot people? Yes, usually. Is it wrong to shoot someone who’s attacking you with a machete? No (except for radical pacifists). Should we describe the shooting as an evil that counterbalances the evil of the machete-wielder? No, because the shooting isn’t evil at all when it’s defensive; it’s aggressive shootings that are evil.

      So in describing the scenario we’re discussing as one evil balancing another, you’re presupposing the very point that’s under debate.

      ?I think that these out of balance states, removing the tax but not the privilege or removing the immigration laws but not the welfare creates a state of obviousness around the second problem, enjoins debate and examination because of their imbalance.

      This sounds a bit like the argument that Marxists have occasionally given, that we should try to provoke the government into becoming even more outrageously unjust so as to awaken resistance in the populace. But a) it’s a tad risky, and b) it’s kind of tough luck for the victims of the increased injustice.

  12. AFH September 3, 2010 at 5:20 am #

    Firefox 3.6.8 Windows XP

    a) But in what sense does the government’s creating something count as the community’s creating something?

    Presumably the government is that entity that the community (however formed including voluntarily) is one in which the constituents have contracted to transfer some their authority of self defense to a common entity. But, that is not the premise of the discussion I do not think. I believe that the question is in pushing forward toward that voluntaryist society, are compromises and interim steps vulgar? Is cutting one branch from a tree wrong because there are three that need pruning?

    b) Why is the past origin of an institution more important than how it functions now? If it turned out that the Supreme Court was once an independent arbitration agency that was later granted monopoly powers, should that change our evaluation of its actions?

    I am not sure that I implied that past origin was a factor, but that the two need to be separated as different entities and their origin spoke of their authority for action. One acts on its own, the other is in a special place of trust holding in it the proxied authority of its constituents. That that authority never be let go beyond what any one constituent might have, with an economy of scale.

    Monopoly is an ethical breach.

    This sounds a bit like the argument that Marxists have occasionally given, that we should try to provoke the government into becoming even more outrageously unjust so as to awaken resistance in the populace. But a) it’s a tad risky, and b) it’s kind of tough luck for the victims of the increased injustice.

    I would not approach it as malicious provocation. I would however not shirk from removing an “evil” even if it were “balancing” another just on that strength. Two wrongs just do not make a right and I do not believe that this “balance” is really a balance.

    • Roderick September 3, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

      Firefox 3.0.19.NETCLR3.5.30729 Windows XP

      Two wrongs just do not make a right

      You keep repeating that as though it were relevant to the debate. I’m not claiming that sometimes we should do something wrong in order to prevent something wrong. I’m claiming that sometimes something that would ordinarily be wrong becomes no longer wrong when it prevents another wrong (self-defense being the most obvious case). To object against this that two wrongs don’t make a right is question-begging.

      Compare:

      YOU: You shouldn’t take Mary’s bike, that’s stealing.

      ME: I’m not stealing it, she gave it to me. I have her permission to take it.

      YOU: No, stealing is still stealing, even if you have permission.

      • AFH September 4, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

        Firefox 3.6.8 Windows XP

        I’m claiming that sometimes something that would ordinarily be wrong becomes no longer wrong when it prevents another wrong (self-defense being the most obvious case)

        I do not see how self defense relates to the vulgarity in question. I thought the discussion was about whether there was a “third” vulgarity. It was described as which seems to be justifying one wrong because it counter balanced the effects of another wrong.

        I am working of of this:

        1. While government restraints on private activity tend to be bad, restrictions by one part of government on another are often good (checks and balances).

        2. The more privileges a nominally private entity receives from government, the more it shifts from being a private entity (something it’s prima facie bad to restrict) to being an arm of the state (something it’s prima facie good to restrict).

        3. Hence the evaluation of a particular governmental restraint on some entity cannot be disentangled from an assessment of what privileges it receives.

        My argument is that the entangling of governmental restraints and privileges is folly. That two wrongs do not make a right. That to pretend in #3 above that you can make an assessment is not only not possible because market dynamics naturally make effects that are larger than the constituent forces sums; that no one is omniscient enough to know all of the interactions in the market to make such assessments; and that calling this paradigm of one evil balancing another is in itself folly prima facie.

        It assessment exercise is not the same as self defense, which is an exception to the use of force rule.

        The bicycle theft example also is not a case of compounded evil from a state. It is an example of a mistake made by someone with no authority to judge the exchange in the first place. Neither principle party was complaining about the bike… just some busybody.

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