Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Dangers of Nationalism

Something that I see a lot implicitly in the media and the culture is the value placed in the nation as an entity. It is something that I think goes unquestioned, more than most. We often take pride in our nation (though sometimes to satirical extremes, as in 'America, Fuck Yeah!'), but I think that this pride and assumption of the nation state can be dangerous to the health of the citizens.

Over the summer, Russia annexed part of Ukraine, and a big fuss was made about it, talking about how a war might break out over it. Then, there were parts of Ukraine that started fighting to leave and join Russia, though whether that is legitimately Ukrainians wanting to leave, or Russians who are seizing the area, I don't really know or care, and it doesn't matter. The problem is that people are framing the question wrong.

We generally assume that a government is made legitimate by the consent of the governed. Let us assume this to be true. This is a principle that can also be embodied by the idea of the self determination of peoples. Okay, so lets suppose that all people within their national borders are consenting to be governed by that nation, more or less. Clearly in this case, Russia has no claim to invade or annex the people in Crimea, as they have consented to be governed by Ukraine, and not Russia. But suppose those people don't care? They would consent to be governed by Russia or Ukraine? If they are indifferent to who is sovereign, why should the outside world care?

Now let us suppose that they are not indifferent, and would rather be Russian than Ukrainian. In this case, does Ukraine have any right to claim sovereignty over that area after Russia takes it? Sure, Ukraine had it before, but if the people in that region want to be Russian, not Ukrainian, then by the self determination and consent of the governed, they should be allowed to stay Russian. Similarly, if another portion of Ukraine's population wishes to leave Ukraine, what claim does Ukraine have to keep them in Ukraine? If the people derided as 'separatists' withdraw the consent to be governed, then isn't government action against them illegitimate?

Even assuming the legitimacy of all nations, I think these ideas of self determination of peoples and consent of the governed call into question the 'legitimacy' of any civil war, and any nation that engages in such a war. When any portion of a population of a nation withdraws its consent to be governed, waging war against them to keep them in the nation is wrong, by these principles. What ends up as the problem of nationalism is when the people in the rest of the nation support this kind of military action for arguments for national health or power. When we encourage pride in the nation over the consent of the governed, then we lay the ground work for needless civil war.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why Economic Inequality Should Not Matter

I see a lot of liberal rants about the 'growing economic inequality' and the 'top 1%,' but I think that they are missing the fundamental issue. While it is a nice thought that wealth will be distributed more evenly, so that everyone can enjoy private planes and mansions, we should not be judging society by what the rich can have and the rest can't, but rather by what the normal person can afford. Perhaps it is because humans are a jealous species, but it strikes me that the rich being rich doesn't in any way hurt me.

Consider the case if we take inequality to an absurd extreme. The rich people own planets and have their own private space ships to travel between them. The poor people are stuck on Earth in the state that they are in now. The rich in this case are vastly wealthier than the rich are now, while the poor are just as poor as they are now. So why would the inequality make the difference in social good? Because the poor are more jealous of the rich for having access to more resources?

Contrast this case with a completely equal society with no wealth. There are no rich, only poor, but the income inequality is zero, since no one is making anything. This is where everyone is basically subsistence farming or hunting and gathering, working 12 hours a day to eat, and clothe themselves. This is a situation that is not unlike where humanity started. I think it should be fairly uncontroversial that we have made some progress since then, and I think it is somewhat uncontroversial to say that it is better to be living now, with the large inequality, than 10,000 years ago with less inequality.

What I think should be somewhat clear from my examples is that what is important is not the inequality between the rich and poor, but rather the condition of the poor themselves. If we are concerned primarily about poverty, then what we want is a society where the poor are getting better off the fastest. What happens to the rich should be mostly irrelevant. While the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor might sound like a way to fix the problems of inequality, in the long run, this ends up harming the poor more than it helps. In situations with attempted large scale redistribution, such as in the communist states or in other dictatorships (Zimbabwe comes to mind), the poor end up being worse off, eventually to the point where the system collapses, which hurts the poor the most.

As the saying about capitalism goes, a rising tide raises all boats. There are some objections to this from liberals who think that the system that we live in is pure free market capitalism, but there is no other system that I'm aware of that has led to a larger increase of the standard of living of the poor.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

So, the election happened. And all my liberal friends are upset.

Well, as predicted in many places, the election results favored the Republicans, and gained them control of the Senate. My Facebook feed has been full of people bemoaning how terrible this is, and questioning how the country could be so apathetic/stupid. I think that there is a little bit of arrogance and a bit of cognitive dissonance in that sentiment.

First, there is an arrogance in saying that people who vote Republican are stupid. While it may be true (and I certainly don't care to argue that point), if stupid people are not allowed to vote for who they want, who are they allowed to vote for? In a democracy, the entire point is to be governed by the leaders and representatives selected by the people. Stupid people need to have representatives too. And maybe it is not just question of intelligence, maybe the other voters value different things, or have a different worldview.

I think another aspect of this liberal view is that the Republicans don't care about the poor, and are unempathetic or indifferent to the lives of other people. At the same time, these liberals are unwilling to really examine the views of Republicans and Conservatives, and show empathy for their positions. It seems to me that liberals are often too busy accusing conservatives of not caring that they don't consider that maybe they care in a different way.

Lower voter turnout also is thought to have helped the Republicans, which means that there are a bunch of people who would have voted Democrat, but they stayed away from the polls, for some reason. This is probably because people care less about local elections. Why is this? I think part of that is because we have been tending to aggregate more and more power in the federal government, so people have started to think that only the office of the President matters. And it appears that the majority of the people with this mindset are more liberal.

Additionally, we still have a Democrat as a president, so it is not like the country is in a significantly different place than last year. The Republicans don't have a veto-proof majority, so anything that they do will still need the President's signature. The only thing that might have changed would be they might send more bills to the President to sign.

I think that the next couple of years will be the Republicans sending Obama bills to sign, and him not signing them, followed by each side accusing the other of not compromising. I don't think that there will be a significant change from before.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Contradiction in Modern Liberalism

Something that I've noticed from my outspoken liberal acquaintances (Facebook friends), is a tendency to indulge in a scary little doublethink. They rightfully oppose the actions of the police in cases like Ferguson, but then at the same time advocate for giving the state, and therefore agents of the state, additional power to regulate various enterprises. In essence, they are simultaneously advocating increasing the bullying power of the police, while trying to stop the police from bullying. The problem with this position is that giving a group more power is going to have the reverse incentive, and will encourage more bullying.

In our system, this is somewhat mitigated by having multiple government agencies which compete for various legal playgrounds. Police departments have Internal Affairs, which are supposed to bully the bullies. The courts are supposed to ensure that the police can only punish people when they follow the rules. The problem with this is that the legal system is complicated and expensive, so even the threat of legal action can be a deterrent for most people. This means that the police can threated innocent people with lengthy court proceedings, or government inspections, as a means to bully. Even if the police department cannot directly enforce the regulations introduced, they can threaten to contact the agency that does enforce the regulations.

If liberals found a way to end police aggression, and solve the problems of police brutality, then I don't think that this would be a huge problem. I have not seen a good solutions from liberals on this particular front. There is an idea that in a democracy, we can just vote some one in or out, and that will solve the problem. And this is true to some extent, but we don't vote on individual police officers. We don't vote on the policies which govern the police directly. In the current system, we have to rely on elected officials appointing people who understand these problems and institute policies which can help mitigate the systemic incentives. I'm not particularly hopeful in this regard.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Thoughts on Feminism

With Emma Watson's recent speech to the UN, and starting a campaign #HeForShe, I think now is a good time to express some of my thoughts about feminism. By dictionary definitions like the one that Ms. Watson recited in her speech, I am a feminist. I support equal rights, privileges and responsibilities for men and women, and all people generally. I don't usually take the label of feminist, though, because I don't think the definition she cited is the only, or the most accurate definition. Even in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there is a second definition: "organized activity in support of women's rights or interests." Feminism is not just about equal rights.

Something I see fairly frequently in feminist rhetoric is language that excludes men from concern or consideration. For example, on the HeForShe website, we have the following text introduction:

"A solidarity movement for Gender Equality. The movement for gender equality was originally conceived as a struggle led only by women for women. In recent years men have begun to stand-up in addressing inequality and discrimination faced by women and girls. Now it’s time to unify our efforts. HeForShe is a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all."

The commitment statement is as follows:
"Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that requires my participation. I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls."

So gender equality is not only a women's issue, but we are only taking action against violence and discrimination faced by... women and girls. So I guess it is a women and girls issue? This is just the latest example of feminist rhetoric that is poisoned by being too specific, while claiming to be supporting everyone. Even HeForShe admits it "...brings together one half of humanity is support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all." Wait, so only one half of humanity gets support? In an equality movement?

I would be much more inclined to support, at least nominally, these campaigns if they, at least nominally, were willing to correct the gender of these statements:
Gender equality is not only a women's issue, it is a human rights issue that requires my participation. I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson

This is not the most timely of posts, but at this point, nothing on my blog is timely. I've been mulling over what to write about this for a little while, and the additional time has allowed the emotions to run down.

As far as I can tell, the two major camps on this issue are as follows:
Opinion 1: A Ferguson cop shot an innocent, unarmed black kid for walking in the street.
Opinion 2: A Ferguson cop shot a black thug who had just robbed a store, and was charging him.

These two opinions as stated here are obviously the simplified forms of the longer narrative, but I think that they serve as a useful distillation. There are also a few facts that both sides (except for the most extreme) can agree on. The Ferguson police officer did shoot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, six times. There was at least one shot fired inside the car. Michael Brown had just previously robbed a store.

These facts are not really disputed at this point, but the real story is definitely the aftermath. The initial statements and evidence did not include the information about the robbery, or any forensic evidence of where Brown was shot, just leaving the shooting of an unarmed black teen. This instigated protests against the police, using the phrase 'hands up, don't shoot' as a rallying cry. Some destructive individuals decided to use these protests as a jumping off point to loot and vandalize some local stores. This lead, somewhat predictably, to a larger police response.

In some ways, I think the police response is the bigger story, and it has highlighted something that Libertarians have been talking about for years: the militarization of the police force. Suddenly the mainstream press started to care about the use of military equipment and resources by the police. In a most ironic twist, the people who were saying that we need more gun control, and that self defense with a gun is not needed because of police, were now saying that the police are brutal and should not be trusted, but protested.

There has also been a lot of discussion about the race aspect of the conflict. The population of Ferguson is mostly black, and the police are mostly white. I think that certainly plays a part in this, but I think that the power of the police is more significant. We should not be trusting a police force just because they share skin colors with the people that they are supposed to be policing. We should be holding them accountable.

One measure that I think is reasonable for the police (or any public official) to take is personal cameras. While I can understand that some operations (undercover, for example) would require the removal of the camera (assuming that you consider those necessary, which I'm not sure if I do), I think that police should have to wear cameras and microphones that record all of their activities. While it would be a breach of privacy for the officers on duty, it is a sacrifice that should come with having legal power over others. The citizens that are interacting with the police are already at risk of legal action, but this would mean that the officer would have to tell the truth about any incident they report, rather than being able to embellish or fabricate the scenario.

Some police departments are experimenting with this already, like in New Orleans. I hope that this particular trend continues so that we can better hold law enforcement accountable.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Identity Politics - My General Objections

I find identity politics to be extremely poisonous for a number of reasons, but in this post I want to cover my most generally applicable objections, which can be applied to any identity politics.

My biggest objection to identity politics is very fundamental. An argument presented by a person is valid or invalid regardless of their identity. Identity can change experience, but it cannot change logic. If the logic of an argument is bad, it doesn't matter who is making it. If a debate excludes anecdotal data, then no argument should be prefaced with 'As a ___, I think ___.' If they are presenting their experience, then that is anecdotal data at best, and should be excluded, and their identity can only contribute context to their experience, which is not admissible anyway, as it is anecdotal.

One of the big dangers of anecdotal evidence is that it allows for a great deal of confirmation bias. Anecdotes are single cases, which can be cherry picked, and because of this, it is possible to discount the ones that clash with your worldview, while latching on to the ones that confirm it. This just makes it easier for people with opposing worldviews to talk past each other, and never make any progress, and never addressing the fundamental issues.

Confirmation bias is especially bad when paired with identity politics, because once a particular identity narrative becomes the established lens through which someone views their experience, it is very difficult to shake off. For example, if someone views their experiences through a victim narrative, their challenges are because they are persecuted or oppressed, while their successes are just luck. Changing the lens through which they view the experiences can drastically change the conclusion that they reach from their own experience.

Identity politics seems to me to revolve a lot about generalizing a particular group's experiences in to a single narrative. While it might not be intended this way, it seems to me to be a different means of stereotyping, as there is a sense of shared experience from sharing some particular identity. This is not the most troubling part to me. What really troubles me is when arguments are invalidated by the color of someone's skin, or their sexual orientation, or their genitals. And it is not just those outside of each group that is not allowed to comment. The people within the 'accepted' group who express opinions which are contrary to the established view of the rest of the group are branded as 'traitors' of some variety.

Currently, this is very one sided. Groups that are viewed as 'oppressed,' (nonwhite, nonmale, nonhetero), are allowed to speak against the norm of their group (but still run the risk of being called 'traitors' of various kinds). White hetero men are only taken seriously and only have their arguments addressed if they are in favor of the narrative that the 'oppressed' group presents, unless they do it by citing one of the aforementioned 'traitors.' Speaking against a point of view held by one of the victim groups can get one of the 'oppressors' labeled as a misogynist, racist, homophobe, transphobe, chauvinist, sexist, or any number of other slurs, even when those slurs are by no means warranted. Are there people who fit those descriptions? Yes. But random people should not be automatically labeled for challenging the established narrative from the outside.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Response to Jon Stewart's Questions for Libertarians

Because it's there. Although it is a few years old now, I think it is a decent starting point for addressing my views to some common misconceptions of Libertarianism. A lot of these topics require a more in depth response than I am willing to do in a single shot, but I've tried to give the basic idea and outline of the arguments here. The questions posed by Jon Stewart are in blue. 

1. Is government the antithesis of liberty?
In some sense, yes. Government, or rather the people acting as agents of the government, are allowed to initiate force or aggression, or threaten with force or aggression, in order to get the desired results. Taxes are taken from businesses, and if they refuse to pay, they are shut down. Do people pay taxes from the goodness in the bottom of their hearts? Or do they pay because of the negative consequences if they don't? Government is the only institution that we allow to do this. The worst that a company can legally do is deny you access to the services that they provide, which you are not entitled to anyway.

2. One of the things that enhances freedoms are roads. Infrastructure enhances freedom. A social safety net enhances freedom.
True, but for a government to be involved means that other peoples freedoms are being taken away. I say that government road would be one of the later parts of government that I would phase out. As it is now, roads are supposed to be paid for by gas taxes, which are at least somewhat related to usage. The more you drive, the more you have to pay for the roads. 

The problem with this is that the land for the government roads has to come from somewhere. This means that the government takes land from private owners, and gives them what the bureaucrats deem to be the fair value for the land through the power of eminent domain. This means that the bureaucrats are infringing on some peoples freedom with the claim that it will enhance the freedom of everyone else. So should the freedom of a minority be infringed upon to enable the freedom of the majority? And that is assuming that the power is not abused, as I think it was in the Kelo v City of New London case, where land was taken from one group of private citizens to give to a different group of private citizens.

Roads, infrastructure, and a social safety net may all enhance the freedom of the people receiving the benefits, but not for those who have to pay for them involuntarily. I'm all in favor of them, if they are paid for by willing donors and workers.

3. What should we do with the losers that are picked by the free market?
Do we need to do anything? They invested their time and money unproductively, and could not deliver a product that people wanted. Let them do something else, and let the resources they used be used for something more productive. 

4. Do we live in a society or don't we? Are we a collective? Everybody's success is predicated on the hard work of all of us; nobody gets there on their own. Why should it be that the people who lose are hung out to dry? For a group that doesn't believe in evolution, it's awfully Darwinian.
We live in a society, but we are not a collective, and it is important to recognize that society is not the same as government. The government is a part of society, but the society is not the government. When someone says that  'we as a society should...' they usually mean that there should be a government program for it. I think that they are going a bit too far. I usually agree with the 'society should,' but when government is involved, the phrase should really read 'I think my neighbors' money should...' which is a specific way that they think the society should do it.  

Each person's success is predicated on the hard work of people who exchange it with them for other products or services. You don't get there on your own, but you don't get it from taking stuff from other people either. You get there by exchanging with other people. The people that are being 'hung out to dry' are the ones that are not participating in the exchange. If they have nothing to bring to the table, then why should we be forced to support them? 

And since when do Libertarians not believe in evolution? I'll grant you that there are some that don't, but evolution is not really that important when talking about liberty. In fact, it doesn't matter economically at all. Someone else's belief or disbelief in evolution does not impinge on my freedom unless they try to force it on me.

5. In a representative democracy, we are the government. We have work to do, and we have a business to run, and we have children to raise.. We elect you as our representatives to look after our interests within a democratic system.
No, in a representative democracy, we choose some of our government officials through elections. We are not the government. If you think we are, try to fire the police officer that tries to give you a ticket. The electorate can kick out an elected official, if they can agree on a different candidate, but it won't necessarily remove the non-elected government employees that we find incompetent. The vast majority of government workers are not elected, and most are not replaced with each new elected official. 

Also, if you think of the government as the group of people that the society has allowed to initiate force, we can clearly see that we are not the government. We are not allowed to do what the government is allowed to do unless we are a part of it. Just look at the gun debate. Everyone in the mainstream says that the military is allowed to have automatic weapons, tanks, missile launchers, and other heavy weapons, while those should be banned from use by civilians. If we are the government, then why are we not allowed to have all the same toys as the government?

6. Is government inherently evil?
Depends on how you want to define evil, and that is a much deeper philosophical debate than I am willing to get in to right now, and one that I don't think anyone has resolved. But from a libertarian anarchist perspective, yes.

7. Sometimes to protect the greater liberty you have to do things like form an army, or gather a group together to build a wall or levy.
Perhaps, but there is a distinction in how that organization takes place. If you form an army, is it voluntary? Are the soldiers paid? If so, who pays them, and is that voluntary? Part of the reason for a militia is to have a volunteer defense force in the case of a foreign invasion. There is no formal military required. If weapons are widespread and available to the population, then any occupying force will have to face an armed populace much more capable of inflicting damage on them than the Iraqis were against the US military.

 In the case of building a wall or levy, there is nothing stopping local organizations from doing these things. These things certainly don't require federal involvement, and the federal government does not necessarily know the problems that face the local community, or the most effective response to those problems. 

8. As soon as you've built an army, you've now said government isn't always inherently evil because we need it to help us sometimes, so now.. it's that old joke: Would you sleep with me for a million dollars? How about a dollar? -Who do you think I am?- We already decided who you are, now we're just negotiating.
This is an important distinction between those who identify as anarchists and those who identify only as Libertarian. The most common Libertarian statement of value is the Non-Aggression Principle. Most Libertarians will hold that violating this is evil or wrong. The non-anachists will tend to take a 'necessary evil' stance of government, and say that government should be minimized in order to minimize the use of aggression, but that removing it altogether would increase the aggression, as everyone would try to use it. 

This logic can only apply to the anarchist libertarian position though, since it is an absolute prohibition on aggression. Any army must be voluntary, and supported by voluntary donation. Using this argument is dangerous though. If you are willing to impinge on the freedom of some people for the greater freedom of others (eminent domain to build roads, taxation to build infrastructure), what is that but slavery? A lesser form of slavery, sure, but now we're just negotiating. 

9. You say: government which governs least governments best. But that were the Articles of Confederation. We tried that for 8 years, it didn't work, and went to the Constitution.
Did not work in what sense? We got through the Revolutionary War with just the Articles of Confederation. Also, this is assuming that the nation of the United States is a Good Thing, and that if we were left as 13 independent states, it would have been a Bad Thing. History would have been very different if the Constitution was not ratified, and we had split into 13 separate nation. Perhaps the Civil War would not have happened. Perhaps slavery would have been undermined by the lack of authority of a Federal Government. Perhaps we would have been better off if we had not unified under the Constitution. 

10. You give money to the IRS because you think they're gonna hire a bunch of people, that if your house catches on fire, will come there with water.
No, I give money to the IRS because if I don't, they might make my life very unpleasant. Hell, even when I do give money to the IRS, it is unpleasant having to worry about all of the monetary transactions for the last year. 

11. Why is it that libertarians trust a corporation, in certain matters, more than they trust representatives that are accountable to voters? The idea that I would give up my liberty to an insurance company, as opposed to my representative, seems insane.
Because a company is accountable to me. My representative is accountable to me, and a bunch of other people who can overrule my opinion. The worst that a company can do is deny me access to their service and labor because I don't pay them. The worst that a representative can do is pass a law that makes something I do punishable by jail time. 

12. Why is it that with competition, we have such difficulty with our health care system? ..and there are choices within the educational system.
The problems with the healthcare system in its current form started during World War II, with price and salary controls. Employers got around this by offering more benefits, such as healthcare. This alone would have distorted the market with the third-payer problem, but it got worse. After the war ended, instead of simply raising the salary and wage caps, and allowing individuals to buy their own insurance, the government gave tax incentives for medical benefits paid by employers. This meant that it was cheaper for employers to pay for health care than for individuals. 

To use an analogy, it is like you and your employer are going to a restaurant. In the old system, before WWII, you would pay for your part of the bill with your salary. During WWII, your salary was capped, so instead of raising your wages, the company would offer to pay for some of your food. At this point, you are willing to spend more on the food than if you paid yourself, since if you don't buy the food, you don't get the left over money. So spending at the restaurant would increase. After the war, the employer is still paying for you food, but has lobbied the government to give tax breaks for the money spent at the restaurant. This means that the actual cost of the food is lower than the nominal price, as they can get some of the money back from taxes. So the employers end up willing to pay more. So the price of the food increases to match this demand. 

So who ends up paying for this? The uninsured, the self-insured, and the taxpayer. Eventually the healthcare system got to the point that the person making the cost-benefit analysis was the recipient of the benefits, but not the bearer of the costs, to the point that the costs are greatly inflated. Should it be a surprise that someone without the benefits of the employment system would be priced out of the market? 

And that is just on the insurance side. Another part of the problem is competition among different healthcare providers. In order to build new medical facilities, often government licensing is involved. This might not be a problem, but if the politicians are connected with the established medical community, then in can easily become a case of crony capitalism, which hurts patients and taxpayers. 

With regards to school choice, yes some people have school choice, but for many people it is determined either by where they live, or if they have enough money to go outside the system. They pay for it either way. The price of housing in good school districts is higher than those in bad districts, so buying a comparable house in a good district will be significantly more expensive. Another option is to pay for a private school, which costs money more directly. In both cases, you are in a sense paying twice, once in taxes, and once directly to the school or for the house.

13. Would you go back to 1890?
No, but I don't think that every single change since 1890 has been a Good Thing. Some of the changes have been good, like the technological advances which gave us the computer, or the internet. Some of the social changes were good, like the declines in racism and sexism. Others have been bad, like the rise of socialism and fascism, which led to some of the greatest armed conflicts in history. I think the two worst ones that come to mind for me are the Prohibitions, of alcohol with the Eighteenth Amendment, and of the War on Drugs starting in the '70s (though there is some legislation on hemp and narcotics in the '30s). We learned from Prohibition on alcohol that it doesn't actually work, but decided to make the same mistake and have the government ban other drugs. 

14. If we didn't have government, we'd all be in hovercrafts, and nobody would have cancer, and broccoli would be ice-cream?
I don't know that it would be like if we didn't have government. Is our society ready for anarchy? I don't think so. I think that it might take a giant cultural shift for that to happen. As for the specifics, it could be that hovercrafts are the more efficient form of travel if we hadn't already invested in road infrastructure. Or maybe everyone would own an off-road car. We don't know the solutions to all of the problems. No one does. To think that even experts know the most efficient mode of transportation. For example, many people keep pushing for mass transit, but the only mass transit that has made money has been privately run

15. Unregulated markets have been tried. The 80’s and the 90’s were the robber baron age. These regulations didn't come out of an interest in restricting liberty. What they did is came out of an interest in helping those that had been victimized by a system that they couldn't fight back against.
I'm pretty sure those were not really unregulated markets. They may have been slightly deregulated, but not unregulated. Regulations are a messy subject because they distort the market landscape, and increase the cost of doing business. This means that the businesses that are just getting by are going to leave the market. Regulations can also be used as a legal excuse, allowing the company to deny wrong doing because they followed the regulations. The regulations also don't eliminate actual damaging behavior, such as fraud, but rather increase the cost of that behavior.

Also, to talk about people being 'victimized' by a system, the best way to make sure that they can't fight back against it is to regulate it. This raises the barrier to entry artificially, making it harder to find competitors that actually provide the services that the people want. Often times, the reasons for the system being screwed up in the first place is because of a government intervention, as with the case of healthcare.

16. Why do you think workers that worked in the mines unionized?
Because they thought that unionizing was the best way to defend their interests. I have nothing against voluntary unions. I have issues with unions that use violence and intimidation against non-union workers to protect the interests of the union workers. I have issues with employers being denied the freedom to fire the workers that aren't working. 

17. Without the government there are no labor unions, because they would be smashed by Pinkerton agencies or people hired, or even sometimes the government.
Just as I am against unions using violence, I am also against companies using violence or threatening violence. You are not entitled to a job though, so if the company owner finds someone else who is willing to do the job you were doing, you don't have right to get your job back. Don't be surprised if you stop working to go on strike, and end up getting fired. 

18. Would the free market have desegregated restaurants in the South, or would the free market have done away with miscegenation, if it had been allowed to? Would Marten Luther King have been less effective than the free market? Those laws sprung up out of a majority sense of, in that time, that blacks should not.. The free market there would not have supported integrated lunch counters.
The free market cannot enforce segregation without the society as a whole accepting and enforcing segregation. An unlimited democratic government can legally enforce segregation if a simple majority thinks that segregation is acceptable. In the South, segregation was enforced by government by Jim Crow laws, not by the free market. That is an issue with the democratic process, and lack of limits on government interference, not the free market. 

19. Government is necessary but must be held accountable for its decisions.
Even if I grant that government may be necessary, how do we hold it accountable, when politicians create rules to prevent third parties, and shape districts to ensure incumbency? What about the bureaucrats who are not elected, but appointed? What about the agencies under them? How do we hold them accountable? More government agencies? 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Nuance vs Knee Jerk

Often times is observing political discourse, I get extremely irritated at the lack of depth and detail in the reporting and analysis of the issue. The Republican pundits will spin it in one talking point, while the Democrats will spin in it another. This is especially evident whenever politicized statistics are cited, like in gun control debates or in health care reform. The problem that I notice most is that the pundits will talk past each other and dismissing the other point of view instead of trying to actually understand the premises of the other party.

Take the issue of abortion. From what I can see, each side approaches the issue from a completely different starting point. The Pro-choice view seems to look at it entirely from the perspective of the mother, and her bodily autonomy. The Pro-life views it from the perspective of the fetus. The fundamental disconnect is that the pro-life view is that the fetus is a person with rights, and that those rights should be respected. Taking this view, to remove the fetus and kill it would be murder, since the fetus is a person. From the pro-choice perspective, removing the fetus is not murder, but instead a medical operation.

Now, it is often the extremes that grab the microphone, but I think that it is important that the more moderate and considerate voices are heard and listened to. On the pro-life side, it should be made clear that the life and health of the mother is important. On the pro-choice side, they should acknowledge the idea that some procedures that are labeled as abortions are close to the border of murder, if not across it entirely.

This is a case where the knee-jerk responses dominate the conversation rather than a more nuanced discussion of the fundamental ideas that are at odds. In the abortion case, what happens is the pro-choice will only trumpet the rights of the woman over her body, and the pro-life will trumpet the rights of the baby. Worse, I think, is that the debate is often framed in terms of a false dilemma: support federal funding, or ban it. This misses an important middle ground of not funding abortions through the government, but not banning it completely either. This means that the pro-lifers would not have to support abortion financially through taxes, and the pro-choice people would not have the strict morality of the pro-lifers forced on them.

I think that so far my preferred stance would be to balance the two sets of rights. The mother has a right to her body, and can in a sense kick the baby out. However, once the fetus is viable, then the fetus should not necessarily be kicked out without concern as to whether it survives or not. If the life of the mother can be reasonably protected during the c-section, then it makes some sense that the operation should be taken to preserve the lives of both the mother, and the child. 

This is just one example of this situation where emotions and knee jerk reactions result in unproductive discussions, where no one gets anywhere. I think what is important here is to attempt to approach each issue from the perspective and assumptions of the people on the other side of the issue. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What are we entitled to?

This is the central question that pervades much of politics. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Public Education, Health Care, Food Stamps, to name the big ones. These are examples of programs that most people seem to believe are important for the Government to run because we have a 'right' to them, or are 'entitled' to them. I argue that in general, we are not entitled to anything. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the world doesn't owe us. It was here first. The only exception that I can think of might be parents. Parents owe their children, since it wasn't the child's choice to be born. However, society does not owe anything to the parents just because they have a kid. It is the parents' responsibility to provide and raise their children, and no one else owes the kids that. How the parents do this, either by subsistence farming, or working, is up to them. This doesn't preclude charity or outside help, only that individuals are not obligated to help. If the parents want other people to help them, then they first have to do something of value for other peoples in the form of a job.

Fundamentally, all products and services that we consume are the result of human labor at some level. Everything that money can buy is fundamentally buying labor, from the labor used to mine or acquire the raw materials, the labor required to refine the materials into a useful form, to the labor required to build the final product. This means that if people are entitled to a 'living wage,' or a 'baseline' salary just for living, they are entitled to someone else's labor. This can only work in a society that is wealthy enough to provide the excess that is required to support those that consume more than they produce.

In a subsistence society, this is especially clear. If a society is barely supporting itself, then feeding someone who is not productive, and will not be productive means that other people have to go hungry, and possibly starve. If we were to reduce to the simplest case of two people on an island with no contact with the outside world, but enough food to sustain both of them, is either one entitled to the labor of the other? Suppose that it takes most of the day to find enough food for one person. What if one of them gets sick or injured? Is the other person required to feed and care for them, if it means that they will go hungry? I'll grant that it is certainly possible that there is a beneficial exchange that is possible. If one person takes care of the other while they are sick, it is more likely that the same will happen if the situations are reversed, but there is no obligation to do so unless it has been previously agreed upon.

This previous agreement gets in to contracts and the ideas of contract law, which I think makes sense to be a different post, but I think that all that is necessary for now is that if you agree to give someone something in exchange for another good or service, then you are more or less obligated to give that good or service. But barring that, there is no obligation and no entitlement to anything.