Exploitation, Liberalism

Dear Left: Corporatism Is Your Fault

I’m not usually one for polemics. But sometimes polemics is called for. Here goes.

Dear members of the moderate left,

America is suffering from rampant, run-away corporatism and crony capitalism. We are increasingly a plutocracy in which government serves the interests of elite financiers and CEOs at the expense of everyone else.

You know this and you complain loudly about it. But the problem is your fault. You caused this state of affairs. Stop it.

Unlike we libertarianish people, you people actually hold and have been holding significant political power in the US over the past 50 years. What have you done with this power? You’ve greased the corporatist machine every chance you’ve gotten. You’ve made things worse, not better. Our current problems are your fault. You need to stop.

We told you this would happen, but you wouldn’t listen. You complain, rightly, that regulatory agencies are controlled by the very corporations they are supposed to constrain. Well, yeah, we told you that would happen. When you create power—and you people love to create power—the unscrupulous seek to capture that power for their personal benefit. Time and time again, they succeed. We told you that would happen, and we gave you an accurate account of how it would happen.

You complain, perhaps rightly, that corporations are just too big. Well, yeah, we told you that would happen. When you create complicated tax codes, complicated regulatory regimes, and complicated licensing rules, these regulations naturally select for larger and larger corporations. We told you that would happen. Of course, these increasingly large corporations then capture these rules, codes, and regulations to disadvantage their competitors and exploit the rest of us. We told you that would happen.

It’s not rocket science. It’s public choice economics. You recognized, rightly, that public choice economics was a threat to your ideology. So, you didn’t listen, because you didn’t want to be wrong. Public choice predicted that the government programs you created with the goal of fixing problems would often instead exacerbate those problems. Well, the evidence is in. You were wrong and public choice theory was right. If you have any decency, it is time to admit you were wrong and change. Stop making things worse.

You spent the past fifty years empowering corporations and the most unscrupulous of the rich. You created rampant moral hazard in the financial sector. You created the system that socializes risks but privatizes profit. You created the system that creates a revolving door between Obama’s staff and Goldman Sachs. There’s a reason why Wall Street throws money at Obama. It’s because you, the moderate left, are Wall Street’s biggest supporters. Oh, I know you complain about Wall Street. But your actions speak louder than your words.

You balk: Isn’t the problem the regressive pro-market post-Reagan politics? Please, people. Let’s be serious a moment. Reagan used a bunch of pro-market, pro-liberty, anti-big government rhetoric, but the man was no libertarian, and he did little to make the country more libertarian. Reagan spent and spent, and thus ran up the debt. He doubled the number of imports with trade restrictions. He pursued militaristic foreign policy. He increased rather than decreased the size, scope, and power of government. Reagan ramped up the war on Americans civil liberties drugs. He wasn’t even a big deregulator—that was Carter. Look past rhetoric to reality. Reagan was in practice just a more militaristic version of one of you. (More militaristic? Maybe I’m giving you too much credit. While we spent Black Friday shopping, Obama spent it having his military murder innocent Afghan children.)

Point your fingers at yourself. You did this.

Now, here’s the good news. Unlike we libertarianish people, you members of the moderate left will continue to hold and exercise power. So, learn some public choice, and use what you learn in practice. I’m ready to forgive you, if you’re ready to change.

  • With all due respect, Libertarians don’t resort to political means to stick their hands in other people’s wallets.  That is what I call respecting other people, Xerographica.

  • Anonymous

    There is much truth in your post, but your analysis of Reagan is, I think, a bit of a stretch. When he took power the top margin tax rate in this country was 70%! When he left office, it was 28%. Some of us may reasonably view this as a very important movement in the libertarian direction, and I don’t think we are likely to see a 70% top rate again any time soon. Government spending did increase under Reagan, but largely as a result of the military build-up that convinced the Soviets that they couldn’t intimidate the West militarily and contributed to the demise of that evil empire. I guess that whether you regard this defense spending as “libertarian” policy will be driven by whether you regarded the Soviets as a seriouis threat to our liberty, and to freedom generally. I and millions of others oppressed within the old USSR certainly did, and with plenty of justification. 

    Discretionary spending as a percentage of GDP actually decreased under Reagan, and he did what he could to limit the size and scope of federal power, which most libertarians regard as the most serious threat to freedom. This included appointing federal judges that were respectful of federalist principles, including Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork, who was voted down in the Senate, which was hardly Reagan’s fault. A detailed analysis of Reagan’s economic policies, accompanied by tons of statistics, charts, and graphs, was prepared by Niskanen and Moore, and published by CATO, here:  http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa261.pdf.

    • Anonymous

      Taxes don’t matter. Spending matters.

      • Anonymous

        Good, then let’s raise taxes to 100% of income and watch the results.

        • Anonymous

          Don’t be obtuse. If I may be so bold as to pick up Russ’ sword on this, your assertion was that Reagan’s reduction of the top marginal rate from 70% to 28% supports the conclusion that Reagan reduced, in some measurable way, the size of government. 

          This assertion is incorrect for the simple reason, as Russ pointed out, that the size of a government is measured by its spending as a percentage of GDP, not its tax revenue. This is because the latter would wildly understate the size of a government such as our federal government, which finances nearly half its spending with debt rather than tax revenue. The fact that government debt is nothing more than deferred taxation does not ameliorate the inaccuracy of using taxation as a measure of the size of government.Taxes do matter in a whole host of other very important respects, but Russ was correctly stating that they are not relevant for how you are attempting to use them: to measure a supposed reduction in the size of government.

          • Anonymous

            Excuse me, but I never said that the reducing the tax rate was equivalent to reducing the size of government. Go back and read what I wrote. What I was reacting to was Jason’s claim that Reagan was not a libertarian and had not moved the country in a libertarian direction. So, I suggest that you not be obtuse.

            Libertarians hold that people are entitled to retain their justly earned income, right? So retaining 72% of it rather than 30% of it is a big improvement from the libertarian perspective. This was clearly movement in the libertarian direction, and one not likely to be completely reversed anytime soon.

          • Anonymous

            Fair enough. If I misread your assertion, mea culpa.

            As for the unlikelihood of reversal of the marginal income tax rate, I’m afraid I do not share your confidence for two reasons. First, the occupy movement, despite its gross ignorance on virtually every issue of social import, is poised to get traction with Obama and Congressional democrats in this election cycle.

            Second, and more importantly, what we retain in nominal dollars is far less important than the purchasing power that will be lost through the hidden tax of inflation when the monetary stimulus that the Fed pumped into the banks is finally lent out. The only downward pressure on inflation rates right now is the fact that banks have elected to shore up their mortgage-backed-security-ridden balance sheets with freshly printed Fed notes rather than devote those funds to loan-making. Once that changes, as it inevitably must, we’ll see inflation or, worse, stagflation.

          • Anonymous

            Mea culpa accepted. I do not disagree at all with your view that we are in a terrible economic mess (see my conversation with Damien S. below). But there are ways for people like myself, who are not in the hated 1%, to take advantage of the lower marginal tax rates we now enjoy (relative to the higher rates under Carter). These include investments in precious metals, foreign currencies, oil futures contracts, etc. As they say, “forwarned is forarmed.”

          • Anonymous

            If you have a gun, and I have money in my wallet, and we go into a store, and you buy something for me, IS THERE ANY DOUBT THAT I WILL END UP PAYING FOR IT? Does it matter if the money that pays the store comes out of your wallet or mine? I KNOW you’re going to rob me sooner or later.

            Taxes don’t matter; spending does.

          • Anonymous

            A strong claim of Ricardian equivalence is problematic — however I do agree that spending is the source of the problem.

          • Anonymous

            What if someone else wants to buy bullets for their robber? What then, Xerographica?

        • Anonymous

          Oh dear. Did I make a mistake in taking you seriously? Could you please clarify whether you are just interested in flaming people or if you are interested in listening?

    • Anonymous

      Oh, and you’re being absurd to say that military spending was/is not discretionary.

      • Anonymous

        Well, if you believe as I do that military defense is one of the few legitimate roles of government, then some level of this spending is not discretionary in the same way that domestic spending on (say) crop subsidies or the Department of Education is. Obviously, Reagan elected to hike military spending, and the issue is whether this was wise.  

        • Anonymous

           Interesting that you say “Reagan elected to hike military spending” in the same paragraph that you claim that military spending is not discretionary. Should I take you at your word when you don’t even take yourself at your word?

          • Anonymous

            You should probably read the “some level or” portion of the statement.

          • Anonymous

            Thanks, JMH. You have more patinece than I. Some poeple do not seem worth arguing with.

          • Anonymous

            Of course I read it, but it doesn’t help you. “Some level of” and “not discretionary” are not compatible with each other either. Somebody has the discretion to decide that level.

            Of course I’m not work arguing with … because I’m pointing out your errors. Who wants to have their misteaks highlighted??

          • Anonymous

            In my experience, self-proclaimed “geniuses” are not worth engaging with because they are a minority of one in their assessment of their own capabilities.

    • On one point you are accurate, polemics is sometimes necessary. On the rest you are flat out wrong. First the “left” makes a handy target because it represents such a wide range of views and the definition can be parsed to create wonderful straw arguments. But the rule of corporations in the USA has been growing from the time of Thomas Jefferson and his fight with “Banks”, transportation companies, and a central bank corporation — to the day that a note was inserted defining corporations as “persons” so that the 14th amendment could be used in tandem with the 10th amendment to restrict state powers to regulate them. Blaming the two parties in a long fight for the results is about right, because the left, meaning the general population, has tried all manner of methods to restrain corporations and trusts, with limited success; while in the meantime our elites have used corporations in order to launder their “titles of nobility” and to allow businessmen and politicians to collude in sometimes producing new products and services, but more often using their power over the acquired property to defraud, swindle, over-charge, and monopolize transportation, manufacturing, or communications assets.  The growth of corporate power reached such heights that in your golden age, the 1880’s-1900 they controlled the entire country, top to bottom, with small pockets of resistence such as minnesota, private armies, private police, and corrupt politicians in their pockets.  The “left” under Theadore Roosevelt eventually gave up trying to fight them by breaking them up and tried to moderate them with regulation.  So I guess if playing the Neville Chamberlain game makes one guilty of encouraging a Hitler than the left bears some blame for what has happened.

      Complicated tax codes represent a constant battle between regulators trying to fix the results of frauds, swindles, usury, negligence, and misuse of power by regulation or tax law. Tax laws intended to push the rich to actually do the right thing, always get run through the gauntlet of clever (sometimes libertarian) lawyers and other lobbyists and come out with so many loopholes or modifications that they no longer do what they were intended to do originally.  As long as money dominates our politics, our politicians and the resulting politics we’ll continue to have the best government money can buy, and they’ll continue to pay shills to shill for them with clever but disingenuous and dishonest arguments.

      • Brien Emard

        great explanation of historical occurrences Christopher. thank you. Any percepts as to a solution to curb this corporate corruption form taking place? ultimately it seems to lay in the operations of how the legal system and the courts allow for human behaviour and conduct.

    • Rani J Pabón

      Seems you were wrong on the 70% tax rates… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fuk1Oih8ZME

  • Damien S.

    So, corporations weren’t big before 50 years ago (Standard Oil?), and the moderate left is the main culprit, with no guilt to be shared by the right, or by the Republican party which has been pro-big-business since 1860…

    Sometimes polemics are eye-opening.  This one is an unconvincing partisan rant.

    • Anonymous

      He was being kind. You’ve been in power for 100 years. Remember when the railroads were nationalized during WWI? The leftist theory was that the government could run them rationally, without competition. It was an utter disaster; reversed within 2 years.

      • Damien S.

        100 years?  Coolidge, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Bush?  2000-2006, with Republican Congress and White House, was the moderate left being in power?

        • Anonymous

          I’ll give you Coolidge, since he was the closest to a laissez faire ideal that any 20th-century president — although his cabinet, comprised entirely of Harding leftovers including Hoover, was far from laissez faire. But the rest of that list were no less meddlesome and corporatist than their Democrat counterparts. 

          And while this polemic is addressed to the moderate left, I think it applies with equal force to right-wing administrations and Congresses.

          • Damien S.

            They may have been corporatist, but they were not moderate left, which is my point, as was that the post was addressed to the moderate left despite not applying solely or even most saliently to them.

          • Anonymous

            Well, I would assert that they were moderate-left in their fiscal and social welfare policies and that they simply argued with those on the moderate-left over implementation details. Hoover is a prime example — he initiated many of the public works programs that FDR’s “New Deal” later expanded. They were both central planners.

          • Anonymous

            If both are corporatist who really cares in the context of Jason’s polemic? It doesn’t change the location of responsibility — even if it’s shared with the other big party.

          • Damien S.

            If you directly lambaste a somewhat corporatist group while ignoring the blatantly corporatist group over in your corner, you’re not going to get taken seriously by outsiders.

          • Anonymous

            You’re asserting, likely incorrectly, that other corporatist group is “in his corner.” 

          • Anonymous

            Which is what you seem to be doing here.

        • Anonymous

          It seems, then, that you think the political party of the president determines the course of movement of the entire society. I would have to struggle to believe this. I think I won’t, though.

        • Anonymous

           Hoover, Nixon, Bush, and Bush were the antithesis of the laissez faire model embraced by libertarians of almost all stripes.

          • Damien S.

            I didn’t say they were laissez faire or libertarian, I said they weren’t moderate leftists.

          • Anonymous

            In that case I still dispute Hoover (author of the rough draft of the New Deal) and Nixon (wage and price controls).

      • Just to put this comment in perspective: the last 100 years, especially in this country, been the best 100 years in any country ever in the history of the world. (And isn’t this even more true if you stop at 2000, when a  supposedly right leaning government came to power?) 

        If the “moderate left” is to “blame” for that, well sign me up. 

        • Anonymous

          WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, 80’s fiascos in central/south America, iran, Iraq, etc etc etc

          • Damien S.

            Unlike the previous 100 years, which were a libertarian paradise totally free of war, land-theft, treaty-breaking, and slavery?

          • Anonymous

            Context, Damien, context. The level of corporatism prior to the moderate leftists gaining control was minuscule.

            But I will grant you that the strawman you built is now dead. You can stop beating him and the dead horse he rode in on.

          • That’s because corporatism didn’t matter as much. But there was definitely things like cartels and guilds which do just as much to regulate and stamp out competition as the government does.

            This is sort of the incoherence of libertarianism that keeps it from winning converts. The focus on size of government as being proportional to liberty just doesn’t hold much weight. I mean, I’m not one to reduce libertarians to privileged white kids that want to smoke marijuana without harrassment… but the appeal of libertarianism is certainly limited.

          • biasedmonster

            careful, your projection is showing

          • jdkolassa

            Hate to pop in and respond to a 2 year old comment (!!!) but I agree here. I myself am a libertarian, and I am deeply annoyed by libertarians who seem to think that the size of government–usually measured by what percentage government spending makes up of GDP–is the be-all end all. The real question is not the size, but what government *does*. This is a point picked up by Objectivists but sadly by few non-Objectivist libertarians.

            I agree with Russ above that taxing doesn’t really matter, spending matters; but even more than spending, ACTIONS matter. A government that spent $1 trillion a year but kept itself to the Nozick model would lightyears better than what we have today, even though it would still be spending oodles of money.

          • Theloraxwashere

            Hey, I may not know all the fancy terms and historical events you’ve all been throwing around, but I think you need to take a step back and look at the big picture.  You are being a little bratty about how your goverment isn’t doing what YOU want.  Theres no law against critisizing our goverment like there is in china, so that alone is a reason you’ve been able to critisize your own goverment for somthing they’ve allowed you to do.  If you want to argue that someone else has it better, you can’t.  America today is one of the best countrys.  We may be in debt, we may be liberal, conservative, and hypacrites, but it’s better than alot of other countrys.  Sorry for my terrible grammar and possibly flawed comment, but just think about what I said, and I won’t be coming back to this thread so comment back at your own discertion.

          • Anonymous


            I think you are asking when was a century of libertarian paradise?  Of course, never have been and I dont expect to ever see it happen.  But to act as if the 20th century was not simultaneously the bloodiest century in the history of mankind (and, if we take social theory seriously, perhaps a century of unprecedented anomie?) seems a bit misleading.

          • Damien S.

            It might be the bloodiest century in the number of people killed, but there’s also been far more people to kill.  As far as the rate of violence goes, I think it comes out as the most peaceful century.

            All you did was list a bunch of American wars in the past 100 years.  What was your point?  What were you comparing them too?  The Civil War?  The Indian Wars? You were listing them in a vacuum.  Tony wasn’t saying the 100 years were perfect, he was saying they were the best so far.  Listing flaws does nothing to refute that.

          • Anonymous

            Perhaps putting into perspective the relativity of his claim.  It was an absolutely awful century for many many many who were. e.g., murdered by US foreign aggression, conscripted and sent to die, communities destroyed by the “War on Drugs” and the “Tough on Crime” political movements of the 70’s and 80’s (see David Garland, Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition for an interesting cultural interpretation of the “war on crime” movement).

            “As far as the rate of violence goes, I think it comes out as the most peaceful century.”

            This seems a rather implausible claim, given the scope of the two world wars, the rise of totalitarianism, the continuing concentration of populations in urban areas (resulting in greater likelihood of day-to-day violence (see gang violence)).  If you can provide empirical evidence, I will concede this point, but I am skeptical.

          • Damien S.


            To prime your intuition pump: the world wars punctuate long periods of peace, when the historical norm was often war every few years, or even every year.  Centralized states can attack their own people, but they also reduce freelance crime a lot compared to anarchic feuding.  Wealth and economic security help too.  Feudalism can  be thought of as gang warfare everywhere, all the time, vs. something stashed into a few low-end neighborhoods and trying to avoid official notice.

          • Anonymous

            Damien,  Interesting, I will take a look.  Just to be a bit of a pain, do these studies include rates of incarceration and prison violence?

          • Damien S.

            I haven’t read Pinker’s book itself, so I don’t know.  I think homicide in crime and war is the main concern.

            Well, it’s probably safe to say incarceration has gone up, because long-term prisons for non-nobles barely existed for most of history; convicts got flogged, enslaved, exiled, or executed.  Violence of and in prisons is something to remember but I don’t think it’s going to outweigh the other trends.  Especially if you’re generalizing to “man’s inhumanity” not just killing, you’d have to include slavery, lynchings, and the condition of women.

          • Anonymous

            Damien, Thanks, I will take a look at Pinker, etc.  Again, it seems implausible to me, but I will consider it.  At the same time, one must also ask whether this is simply driven by population growth (i.e., population has grown at a faster rate than violent killings, etc.).  If so, what does that mean?  Does that necessarily mean that we are somehow in a “less violent world”?  I am not presenting these questions with a presumed answer.  Just throwing them out there.

          • Damien S.

            Well, it’s people who commit violence, on people, so there’s no obvious reason why violence shouldn’t scale up with population.  10x more people, expect 10x more violence.  If you get 2x, or even 5x more violence, then something’s changed.  People are less likely to be killed, people are less likely to kill.  What else could a less violent world mean other than a lower chance of encountering or causing violence?

            Plausibility: again, centralized law enforcement seems to work better than everyone being armed and feuding. You’ve also got less famines and more food stamps, so less desperation to survive.  Democracy, so fewer civil wars over monarchic succession.  Less war in general: industrial economies means killing people and taking their land isn’t a path to wealth; nationalism means you can’t easily take over the peasants as the new distant elite, again making war less attractive.  Our wars stand out to us, but how mentally salient are the death rates of the Thirty Year’s War, or the Mongol invasions, to you, or even the annual back and forth of Dark Age Europe?

          • Anonymous

            “What else could a less violent world mean other than a lower chance of encountering or causing violence?”

            Here’s one concern.  Perhaps the decreased rate of murders is not the result of a decrease in violence, but is the result of advances in medicine.   Here is a paper presenting such a view:


            If that is the case, than I think it is perfectly reasonable to wonder if we’re truly living in a “less violent world,” or if we are just better able to deal with the consequences. 

            Perhaps there are flaws in this paper, I dont know, I am out of my area of expertise.  So although I am engaging in debate, I am somewhat uncomfortable (still fun though).  Again, I have not read Pinker so my replies are reactionary (and perhaps he deals with them adequately in the book).

          • Damien S.

            That’s an interesting point, but  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_the_United_States shows assaults have been decreasing recently as well, though still above a 1960 baseline.

            Still, my impression is that the raw level of violence is a lot less today.  Read a regional history, and there’ll likely be lots and lots of war, and frequent slaughters of cities.  Abnormal today.  Cities… we have drug gangs, but we also have streetlights.  My impression is that urban danger at night before cheap artificial light was pretty high.

          • Anonymous

            I have not thought about it, and I am skeptical about arguments claiming a single “direct” cause of the bloodshed (especially considering the vastly different international contexts leading up to the conflicts (eg., the international system prior to WWI vs. WWII)).

          • Disagree, obviously. Wars have many causes beyond overlooked opportunity costs, as Hume22 correctly points out. 

          • The Civil War

          • Yes, you can find faults. Even so, it is still the best century in any country ever in the history of the world. Does anyone seriously dispute this? 

          • Lysander Spooner

            “Best” is completely subjective.  Best for who?  For my family and our ancestors it was probably the best century.  For the majority of Americans it was the best century.  Was it the best century for the Jews?  For the Russians?  For the 262 MILLION people murdered by governments (combat deaths excluded in that number) due to the rise of Totalitarianism?

          • I wrote : “the last 100 years, especially in this country, been the best 100 years in any country ever in the history of the world.” I think that answers your question, “best for who?” 

        • Anonymous

          Correlation does not imply causation.

        • Anonymous

          Unfortunately, your statement is meaningless. It simply says that capitalism is SO robust that it can tolerate being run by socialists. Think of how much MORE wealthy we would have been had individuals been free to make their own decisions. <— Yes, I understand that you disagree, but I'm just pointing out that your statement doesn't prove your case.

        • Brien Emard

          great point tony. but that progress has come at the cost of creating some very large problems to be dealt with as a result. not to say that it should have been avoided in moving forward. but that we have a responsibility to deal with the ways we conduct ourselves and adapt. i dont necessarily believe that a healthy gdp is a sign of a healthy society.

    • To a libertarian (I’m not one), Democrats and Republicans have been two sides of the same big-government coin for at least 50 years, and probably quite a bit longer.  Forget which side uses what rhetoric for a second, and ponder the basic fact that government has never gotten smaller.  It’s pretty clear that whenever a politician says “I want less government,” he actually means “I want less government power over areas where I disagree with their policies, and more government power over areas where I agree with their policies.”  Since it’s far harder to prune government than to add more of it, well, you see where this is going.  Republicans want a war on drugs, Democrats want public healthcare, and we end up getting a half-assed version of both because it’s more politically expedient than either doing or not doing things the right way.

      • Damien S.

        Never gotten smaller, except for cut taxes, airline deregulation, phone company dereg, banking dereg, increased freedom to homeschool, charter schools…

        “it’s far harder to prune government than to add more of it”

        Especially if you don’t even try.  The GOP has always been willing to cut taxes without cutting spending.  Even the 2010 House made rules that let them cut taxes without keeping the budget balanced.  As for that being politically expedient, perhaps we should ultimately look to the voters?   I follow Canadian politics, and they seem to take “fiscal conservatism” seriously up there.  By comparison, I don’t see Americans really caring en masse, except as a stick to beat the opposition with or as something to fret about when times are bad.

        • Anonymous

          Hey, Damien, I think we may finally agree on something (your last paragraph). Government spending is the largely the result of a “get something for nothing” mentality that is pervasive in the elctorate. This explains why our federal government has made $61 trillion in unfunded promises to voters by means of our entitlement programs. Politicians of both parties buy votes with economic favors–indeed I regard this as the very definition of contemporary politics. In my opinion the only solution is to take away the power of our officials to grant these favors. The state should defend us against foreign enemies and domestic criminals, and that’s about it. I know you don’t agree with this, but I believe it is the only way to enforce “fiscal discipline.”

          • Damien S.

            Well, the US states have balanced budget requirements, though weakened by capital bonds, and also a bad idea in Keynesian terms.

            Chile and Sweden have “budget rules” that seem to work.

            I’ve thought of a fiscal equivalent of the Fed, or maybe just another legislative body, that sets the size of budget, taxes, borrowing and rainy day spending, while other bodies set the details, so you’d decouple “how much should we spend overall” from “if we spend just a bit more on this I can get more votes”.

            So there’s a bunch of other ways.  And it seems that if you could get the votes to take spending power away, you’d have the votes to do one of these instead.

          • Anonymous

            Putting aside our pre-exisiting differences regarding the things that are morally legitimate for the state to do, I don’t think we disagree. I don’t claim that my proposal is more practical or realistic than yours. In fact, I am pretty sure that no real change is possible until we have a fundamental shift in popular attitudes about government.

            However, this may be less “pie-in-the-sky” than first appears. My personal fear and (sadly) prediction is that we will have a financial meltdown in this country within the next five years. This will occur when our foreign creditors finally cancel the federal government’s credit card. It will then become abundantly clear even to the slow and inattentive that the $61 trillion (and growing each month) in entitlement promises cannot be honored. Just as in Greece, no matter how high you raise taxes, or how much you cut defense spending, there is no way to raise anything close to the amount needed to satisfy our obligations. So, its break our promises or (and this is pretty much the same), pay them off with monopoly money.

            People will be very pissed (as in Greece), and they will want to “occupy” everything, but it will be like complaining about the fact that the sun sets every evening. Perhaps finally at this point we can have an honest national conversation about what functions the state should, and is capable, of performing.

          • Damien S.

            What’s the time period for those $61 trillion?  10 years?  30?  50?  Makes a bit of a difference, as does whether inflation and GDP growth are factored in.

            One of Greece’s biggest problems is that it has been very bad at *collecting* taxes.  Tax evasion is a national sport, and a huge portion of the economy is black market.  Even so, they’re getting to the point where the budget would be balanced if not for the interest on foreign debt. And of course Greece has other economic problems caused by the euro.

          • Anonymous

            Here is the link to “USA Today” with the calculation: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2011-06-06-us-owes-62-trillion-in-debt_n.htm. It is consistent with other calculations I’ve seen. As I understand it, the calculation looks at all future obligations relative to present funding sources. The article says the calculations were done using the same accounting methods that would be used by a business, i.e. GAAP. I am no accountant, but to me that suggests that you would include all future obligations, taking into account that entitlement payments to beneficiaries are themselves indexed to inflation using the CPI. So, you end up with a figure that represents all future obligations in current dollars.

            Now it is true that these obligations are to be paid out over many decades, but the entire size of our economy (GDP) is something like 14 trillion. Thus, if we devoted every penny in the economy to this debt, it wouild take us more than 4 years to pay it off. And, this obligation is increasing each year. Bottom line: we are screwed! 

          • Damien S.

            “if we devoted every penny in the economy to this debt, it would take us more than 4 years to pay it off.”

            Is that supposed to be alarming?  You could say the same of a sensible home mortgage.  But we don’t have to devote every penny in the economy to the debt.  If we have 30 years to pay it off, then that’s $2 trillion a year.  And AIUI that’s not on top of the existing budget, that largely is the budget, i.e. SS and Medicare and military pensions.

            And I have to wonder about their math.  They mention SS adding 1.4 trillion.  I estimate, say 4 million people turning 65, 17 years of further life expectancy, $20,000 a year, $1.36 trillion.  Hey, pretty close for numbers from my ass.  But that’s money that will be paid on average over 17 years.  Also, various current recipients are dying and not getting SS money any more, the real additional obligation is the difference between new retirees and deceased ones.

            A further article talks about a $21 trillion shortfall, over the lifetimes of everyone currently in the system now, “workers and beneficiaries” alike.  So we’re talking at least 18 if not lower for minimum worker age, and at least 80+ at the high end.  So, over 60 years, a shortfall of $300 billion a year.  Hmm, comparable to 2% of GDP, or about what taxes have been cut since Reagan, or to surge in military spending, and 1/3 of the excess medical spending compared to other countries…

          • Anonymous

            We collect about $2 trillion in taxes at the fed level every year, so if we have to pay an additional $2 trilion per year to satisfy our entitlement obligations all we need to do is double our tax collections–sure, no problem, no economic impact, right?

            The article said we had increased the unfunded amount by $5 trillion last year, so we are trying to hit a moving target.

            If you want to live on Fantasy Island, that’s OK by me, but I’m not moving there with you. You are welcome to the last word.  

          • Damien S.

            $2.7 trillion in 2009.  $2.3 trillion in 2010 because hey look, big giant recession.

            And it’s not 30 years, it’s “lifetime of the people in the system”, so 60 years.  And the biggest component is Medicare, due to rising health care costs, a problem which is going to bite everyone, public and private.

            Yes, the article said it increased by $5 trillion.  I was questioning the math, since journalists mess up, people in general mess up numbers, and journalists doing math without showing their work…

          • It’s not something for nothing.  It’s the production of goods and services using pooled resources.  Most people are willing to contribute their fair shares.   But some self-styled libertarians are bratty, narcissistic rogues and whiners who imagine they have all sorts of natural pre-political “rights” that they have made up out of the whole cloth of their needy imaginations, and who stamp their feet about cooperating with the surrounding society but insist in living in those societies nonetheless.  For them, there is no recourse but to take the share that is required by coercive means.

          • Damien S.

            Well, prisoner’s dilemma/tragedy of the commons/composition fallacy applies to everyone, not just libertarians.  Thus mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon, in Hardin’s words.  People are willing to contribute fair shares if they know everyone else is contributing fair shares too.

          • Anonymous

            Dan, I was born into the society I live in. I didn’t choose where to be born. Are you saying that if I don’t agree with others in this society then I have an obligation to leave? I don’t think so.

            And just who has the right to decide what share is required, or even what is required? Do I have the right to decide for you or you for me? Again, I don’t think so.

            I think that what you really mean when you say that there is no recourse but to take the share that is required by coercive means, is that other people have things that you want, and you’re willing to employ force to get them to hand these things over to you. And you talk about bratty whiners. You’re much worse.

          • Anonymous

            I prefer to see coercive monopolies go the way of the dinosaurs, Xerographica.

          • Anonymous

            See Kent McManigal’s responses to your comments on his blog. I think Kent covered it quite well.

          • Damien S.

            “I was born on this property.  I didn’t choose where to be born.  Are you saying that if I don’t agree with the landlord’s rent requirement then I have an obligation to leave?  I don’t think so.”

          • Anonymous

            I’m not sure where you’re going with this, Damien. Are you saying that society owns individuals, like a property owner owns property? In your eyes, do individuals ever have any rights at all independent of what the governing authority in a society says they have? If, say, the law says that you are required to turn runaway slaves over to the chief of police (so that he can see that they are returned to their master), do you have any right to decide that the law is wrong, and disobey it?

            Sorry if this is getting off-track, but, like I said, I’m not sure where you’re going with this. I don’t see how you can equate a society with a piece of property.

          • Are you saying that if I don’t agree with others in this society then I have an obligation to leave? I don’t think so.
            shemsky, a society is a cooperative organization of people.   If you are not willing to cooperate with the society you should probably excuse yourself.  But if you wish to persevere in living within a society whose norms you disdain, you should understand that others in that society are generally going to insist in applying to you the common rules of governance that they have worked so hard to create and maintain.

            I view systems of rights and obligations as institutionalized norms created by human beings acting politically to organize their cooperative lives.  They are not some pre-existing metaphysical charter made binding on human beings by God or Nature or the Form of the Good. 

            When it comes to taxation and other forms of coercion, I’m not that concerned with the things that I want for myself, but the things I want for others, and for larger social purposes, many of which will extend well beyond my own finite life.  Libertarians have trouble thinking beyond the boundaries of self-interest, so you might find these kinds of impersonal and social aspirations perplexing.

            People have established all sorts of rules and systems for organizing their social lives, including higher order rules and systems for changing the lower order rules.  If you don’t like the rules as they are currently constituted, you can avail yourself of the systems that exist for changing them.  If you fail, you will find yourself subject to the rules that currently exist.

            I do find it dismaying that the adherents of the libertarian religion are so consumed by radical individualism and self-worship that they resent even the most minimal and traditional forms of social cooperation, and yet also seem to believe they have a right to social membership on their own terms uncooperative terms.   Regrettably, coercion is required to subject such rogues and self-styled free agents to the rules that have been established for all.  Most people are willing to cooperate and chip in, however, in a spirit of democratic equality, without elevating themselves and their wants above their fellows.

            If you really insist on avoiding material cooperation at all costs, I suppose you can go live in a shack somewhere in Idaho.   If you keep to yourself and don’t draw on any social services, others will probably conclude that the gains from coercively enforcing your social obligations on you are outweighed by the costs of enforcing them.

          • Anonymous

            Minimal forms of social cooperation? What world are you talking about, Dan? Not the one we live in. And where did you get the idea that libertarians believe that they have a right to social membership on their own uncooperative terms? Libertarians, most of us anyway, believe in free association. In other words, if you don’t want to associate with me then you shouldn’t be forced to, and if I don’t want to associate with you then I shouldn’t be forced to. Just because we both reside in the same general area doesn’t mean that we have to associate with each other. As long as we don’t bother each other then there shouldn’t be a problem.

            Your arguments about following the institutional norms could apply equally to a free society or to a totalitarian society. Who should decide whether the institutional norms are right or wrong – individuals or the lawmakers?

          • I would say that taxation is a minimal requirement, shemsky.  Societies have always taxed, and they have always made laws requiring people to pay their taxes.

            Anybody can decide for themselves whether the prevailing institutional norms are sound or should be changed.   But if they fail to change those norms they will still be bound by them.

            No enduring society of human beings has ever devised a civilized form of life in which all human associations are purely voluntary, and all “obligations” are self-chosen.  It is hard to conceive of such a society succeeding at anything challenging.

          • Anonymous

            Shemshy, what are you going to do with people who reject your view of property rights? What would happen if the generation after your almost entirely reject your understanding of property rights?

            Do you enforce you vision on them?

            You appear to have something of a contractarian view of things but contract is a very problematic approach when considering intergenerational social interactions and rule sets. 

          • Anonymous

            I’m not sure that I totally follow you, jmh. Do you mean that if someone else thinks that it’s acceptable to rape my daughter, then would I fight to keep them from violating what I consider to be her property rights in her own body? Or am I missing your point?

            My current view of property rights is pretty much in line with Rothbard’s.

          • Anonymous

            Are you familiar with the legal concepts of malum in se and malum prohibitum? If so, where does one draw the line between the two? Is there some external standard that all people must accepts that is constant over time? Maybe. I certainly think there will always be the view that murder is wrong (it’s basically a tautology).

            The problem for you is that you assume that merely being born implies you have no obligation to accept the existing rules unless you agree with them. I do realize you did mention staying in the society and working to change the rules.

            For the most part my statements are about the cases where we’re talking about malum prohibitum rule. The way you’re expressing things comes across as saying all the prior generation have no right to establish rule governing society with the expectation that the new generation will also be bound by these same rules.

            Saying the same thing from a different perspective, you seem to be saying that the new generation has no obligations to accept the existing social rules in the following sense: a) you can work to  change them, b) you can choose to violate them and c) if you choose b that you are exposed to the existing social sanctions in place. You seem to be saying c is unfair.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t know if this will answer your question or not,  jmh. But here goes.

            I believe that people always have an obligation to refrain from harming other innocent people, no matter what the rules say. So, if the existing rules say that you may not assult or kill others except in self defense, then of course everyone is obligated to follow those rules.

            If, however, the existing rules prohibit behavior that harms no one else then I don’t feel that anyone should be obligated to follow them.

            In other words, individuals can do whatever they please as long as they don’t harm another person. And that applies wherever someone was born or wherever they moved into or out of.

          • Damien S.

            Say there are four families on an island.  Three of them own all the land, and the fourth works as servants in various degrading fashions.  The island is anarcho-capitalist; no one forces the fourth family to do anything, it’s just that the other three own all the land, plants, and beach.  You are born to the fourth family.  When you turn 18, it turns out that none of the landowners want your services for anything other than an anal sex prostitute; you can comply, starve, or be thrown off to swim.

            Note there is no government, and your rights to own any property you could acquire would be recognized.  We could say the three families were the original landowners, and the fourth were castaways.

            No boats visit the island.

            Justice? There’s no violation of libertarian principle, yet the situation is such that many people would be sympathetic to revolution.  It’s also worse than being born under most governments.

            Yes, it’s an extreme thought experiment.  But if one makes a big deal of principle, and being deontological instead of consequentialist and utilitarian, then one has to see one’s principles to the end.

          • Anonymous

            What if you have cancer and there’s no cure available? Does everyone else have to put their life on hold to find you a cure?

            What would your solution be to your island situation, Damien?

            I know this doesn’t go with your story, but if I were on the island I would help the young man out if I could. As would most other people. But, at the same time, I would not think that I had any right to force someone else to do the same.

          • Damien S.

            If there’s a realistic hope of finding a cure without too much cost, that’d be nice.  Otherwise, life sucks.  Ameliorating the victim’s condition would be nice too.

            Thing is, I *am* a consequentialist, and I don’t claim a formal principle that solves all my moral problems, so ad hoc weaseling is built in.

            But I think you do claim such a thing, so spell it out.  You perceive no injustice in the scenario I describe? No qualms that something might not be right?  Have the courage of your convictions, it’s a pretty simple case after all.

             No dodges to what you would do in the scenario; I described what *those* libertarian property owners are doing.  (Fairly realistically, historically speaking.)

          • Anonymous

            I don’t know whether you are actually interested in an answer to your challenge or merely interested in scoring debating points. If the former, you may be interested to know that Nozick held open the possibility that side constraints (including those against property redistribution) might have to be violated to “avoid catastrophic moral horror.” ASU, 30n. Your example would seem to qualify.

            You shouild also know that his “Lockean proviso,” which limits the rights of property owners to unfairly exploit monopolies, might actually resolve your scenario within the confines of his core principles. Thus, at ASU, 180, he notes that “if all the water holes in the desert dry up,” the owner of the last remaining one may not charge what he likes. Similarly, “an owner’s property right in the only island in an area does not allow him to order a castaway from a shipwreck off the island as a trespasser, for this would violate the Lockean proviso.”

            There is MUCH more to say about such cases, but libertarians are not committed by their theory to maintaining the justice of the status quo in situations like yours. Of course, some may wish to bite the bullet and do so, but I suspect they are a minority.

          • Anonymous

            So long as the other landowners didn’t do anything to put the young person in the spot they are in then no, Damien, I don’t see any injustice, at least not any injustice caused by the landowners. That might apply to the parents of this person, depending on how they got there and why. You didn’t explain that part of the story. If the landowners all refuse to help the young person, then I am saddened by their lack of compassion and saddened by the plight of the young person. I might even hate those people for their refusal to show some compassion towards the young person, and want nothing to do with them ever. But I don’t feel that it’s anyone’s right to hold someone else accountable for something that they didn’t cause, so it would be wrong to take action against them . That would hold true even if I was that young person. Just like the cancer case – sometimes life sucks.

          • Anonymous

            “When it comes to taxation and other forms of coercion, I’m not that concerned with the things that I want for myself, but the things I want for others, and for larger social purposes, many of which will extend well beyond my own finite life.  Libertarians have trouble thinking beyond the boundaries of self-interest, so you might find these kinds of impersonal and social aspirations perplexing.”

            If you are so concerned that the state will lack sufficient tax revenue to support your favorite program, there is nothing stopping you from donating more of your own money toward that purpose. Here’s the address to which you should send your donation check:

            Gifts to the United States
            U.S. Department of the Treasury
            Credit Accounting Branch
            3700 East-West Highway, Room 622D
            Hyattsville, MD 20782

            If your policy, rather, is to insist on taking more of your neighbors’ hard-earned money to pay for your favorite program, the onus should be on you to demonstrate why that program is properly within the sphere of government and why it requires more money than it already has. Instead, today, we have a government with zero incentive for efficiency and which measures the success of programs by the number of dollars they consume.

            As for your assertion that Libertarians “have trouble thinking” about goals beyond their immediate self-interest, such a grand claim requires grand evidence, of which you have provided none.

          • the onus should be on you to demonstrate why  that program is properly within the sphere of government and why it requires more money than it already has. 

            Such demonstrations are made everyday, within the limits of time and practical feasibility, in local, state and national legislative bodies.  We talk and argue a bit, and then we vote.  Social and political life is not a philosophy club; it’s a practical art in which philosophical debate plays a real but limited role.  If you lose the vote, you lose.  Tough luck.  You can go on nursing your grievances about being forced to do things you don’t like, and believe what you like about where the “onus” falls, but in the meantime you should probably suck it up, accept the will of your fellow citizens, and do your assigned social job until you can succeed in changing the job description through legislative means.

            As to whether libertarians are good at thinking beyond the limits of self-interest, I used to give them more credit in that regard, and thought that many just had an honest difference of opinion about the best way of achieving a good life for the many.   But after reading this blog for several months, I have come to think that “bleeding heart libertarianism”  is just an insincere and obsequious Eddie Haskell mask some libertarians have put on to gull a broader audience into thinking well of them.  You scratch the mask a little bit and the antisocial an d self-absorbed Ayn Randian id comes busting out.

          • Anonymous

            Yep, so when the duly elected legislators decide to send a disfavored minority to the death camps we should just “suck it up and accept the will of our fellow citizens.”‘ Do you really believe this? Can you see no distinction between what is objectively good and what a majority might decide? If you grant that there is some objective morality that at least in some cases trumps man-made law, then it seems to me that this “higher” law limits our obligations to obey the state. Liberals hate being called fascists, but with respecct to the views you just expressed, the shoe fits.

          • Anonymous

            That’s a good “in theory” proposition but our democratic processes do not do a good job of reflecting anything that resembles the “average person” or some “general will”.

            We need to work on the institutions a lot more.

          • Anonymous

            That argument really doesn’t work since everyone that was already present when you showed up have no obligations to change anything for you.

          • Anonymous

            My point was that just because I disagree with others in a particluar society doesn’t automatically mean that I have an obligation to leave. I might want to leave, or I might want to stay and try to change things.

            Whether someone who was already present when I showed up has an obligation to change anything for me depends on what it is I want them to change. If I want them to stop robbing and assulting me then I believe that they have an obligation to change those things.

          • Anonymous

            That’s a fair enough clarification regarding exit.

            There’s still a very problematic aspect in your second paragraph which I think relates to the distinction between property and rights. For instance, if your claim is that since you never agreed to taxes such deductions by the formal institution of society is robbery, that’s not an obvious truth. 

            If you’re suggesting that the society is extracting slave labor form you then I’d agree. Exactly where one draws the line is a bit difficult to define. This is the  problem I’m getting at in my other response to you.

          • Anonymous

            Imagine you and your neighbor are the only members of society. Who decides what is right and what is wrong – you or your neighbor? My answer would be that neither of you decides what is right or wrong for the other. Each of you may only decide for yourselves. If you can agree then you can associate with each other. But if you can’t agree then you should not associate. Agreement might include trade-offs with each other. You accept something that you don’t fully agree with that benefits your neighbor, so that your neighbor will accept something else that he doesn’t fully agree with that benefits you. But that should be voluntary, not coercive. I believe this concept can apply to any society, no matter how large. And I don’t buy the idea that the free rider problem justifies overriding mutual consent as the basis of social interactions. That’s just me. I can’t, at this point, say why.

          • Anonymous

            What if you were a unicorn? Lets deal with reality not hypotheticals that don’t apply.

          • Anonymous

            But it does apply, as I said above. It applies to all  interactions with other individuals. Why wouldn’t it?

          • Anonymous

            Of course it doesn’t apply – the scenario that would apply would be me and my neighbor are living under a set of rules. You show up and say they don’t apply.

          • Anonymous

            You and your neighbor would be living under a mutually agreed to set of rules. Which either of you could withdraw from at any time. And if more people showed up then it would be the same exact situation.

          • Damien S.

            But whether they are robbing you or demanding legitimately agreed upon taxes/dues/rent is precisely at question.  As is whether you can own anything to be robbed of without the consent of the society you’re trying to not be part of.

          • Anonymous

            Isn’t it obvious that if there is such a thing as natural rights, i.e. those that we enjoy simply by virtue of being competent adults, that they are logically anterior to the creation of any societal obligations? Socieities, and any obligation arising by the creation thereof, come into existence subject to whatever rights people already hold, right? So, the relevant question is whether such pre-political human rights exist. I think Nozick makes a pretty good case for them. See particularly ASU, 33-4 and 48-51. I attempt to clarify and provide additional arguments for Nozick’s position in my book.

          • Damien S.

            I don’t think natural rights exist in absence of society.  And I don’t know if it’s the same edition, but those pages in the Google Books version were hardly convincing.

            And even granting some level of natural rights — well, what level?  A right to not be killed or enslaved or one thing.  But robbed? That requires a right to ownership and property rights.  But in the scenario, the person is born into a society; everything is already owned and potentially subject to past entailment and agreement, and the new citizen will own things only as they are transfered to him, along with whatever obligations they entail, such as paying taxes on that property or income.

          • Anonymous

            Just to be absolutely clear, I was referring to the several paragraphs that precede and follow this sentence that appears in the original (1974) edition at the top of p. 34: “Thus we have a promising sketch of an argument from moral form to moral content…” Later, at pp. 48-50 under the subtitle “What are Constraints Based Upon,” Nozick tries to flesh out part of the earlier “sketch.” People can read and evaluate this argument for themselves, and if interested in a further elaboration of it, can refer to Chapter 1 of my book. I don’t think anything is to be gained by trying to convince you here.

            Nozick and other libertarians have offered a variety of arguments to show that property rights are an integral part of natural rights, and are at least stringent enough to render coercion morally offensive in most cases. Thus, it is not sufficient to rebut these argument simply to say–as you appear to–that people are born into a society with certain coercive features. I may have been born into a society that coercively takes money from me to subsidize ethanol production and other “Robin Hood in reverse” schemes, but this fact is just a fact, not an argument that would justify them. You need to actually come to grips with the libertarian arguments against coercion of this sort.

          • Anonymous

            But Dan, the very few that are as you describe simply don’t matter — let them be free-riders. Would that really be any different than helping others with mental disorders?

            Picking a different example, clearly the number of people in wheel chairs, for whom public sidewalks have all be “repaired” to eliminate the curb at intersections,  don’t pay their fair share of the costs. Others do. It’s not like before this people in wheel chairs could not navigate curbs — the vast majority had little difficulty. Allowing the people in wheel chairs to something of a free-ride doesn’t seem like a big deal to most.

          • This is exactly the kind of justification for the institutions, policies, and programs that underlie the corporatism at the heart of the leading post. Hey, it’s all for the Common Good (pay no attention to that billionaire pulling the strings)! The fact that it concludes with a justification of a police state is icing on the cake.

            Once you remove the ad hominem stuff that occupies each of Dan’s comments here, all that’s left is a self-serving justification for his favorite power elite: Dan chooses policies based on whether they benefit others. How noble! And too bad  that no libertarian ever considers others (in his brief but fruitful exercise in confirmation bias).

            I can’t speak for all libertarians. There are too many different shades, and certainly many of them are what Kevin Carson calls “vulgar libertarians.” However, there is an underlying current of thought that everyone might be better off if the size and scope of the government were more limited than it is now. USA Patriot Act? Democrats voted for it, libertarians are against it; Democratic voters can’t remember that about their favorite politicians but libertarians can. Increasing paramilitarization of police departments? Democrats continue to ignore and/or support it (see Dan’s comments on coercion below) while Radley Balko exposes it. Progressives and libertarians do seem to be in agreement on reducing our foreign military involvement; too bad the present administration seems to be no better than its predecessor on that score.

            Libertarians are no more religious than progressives. The belief in natural rights or trust in Rand by the one is no stronger than the belief in democracy or FDR by the other. One sure difference: at least the libertarian left realizes that the state and corporations are in collusion and share equally in the blame, while Progressives and conservatives pick only one of those to blame for our current situation and then argue for giving all power to the other.

        • “Never gotten smaller, except for cut taxes, airline deregulation, phone
          company dereg, banking dereg, increased freedom to homeschool, charter

          There are and have been decreases in the size/scope of the Federal government in some areas, but I would think that those have been largely off-set by government growth in other areas.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but the history of the U.S. Federal Government has been one of consistent enlargement since its inception.

          • Damien S.

            I don’t have the data to have a belief about that, though I suspect it’s not “consistent” so much as spotty.  not much until the Civil War, big burst and maybe partial reversal, big growth again in New Deal/WWII…

            As Steven Jay Gould pointed out, when you start out small, up’s the only direction to go in.  And you should at least acknowledge that sometimes the power does get rolled back.  (Oh hey, Prohibition!  Of course then we got the war on drugs.)

      • I’m sorry, did you just hijack my comment to try to start an entirely tangential debate about your preferred cure-all for our government’s woes?  By way of partial answer, even if we assume that the taxpaying public can and will become informed enough about our massive interconnected system of government to efficiently allocate their local, state, and federal taxes according to self-interest, individual self-interest and group welfare often conflict.  And in practice, vast areas of government that are important to public welfare, but not individually impactful, would be underfunded–because the “rational taxpayer” is just as much of a myth as the “free market”.

        • No; rather, you, “like so many people,” think of the invisible hand as a one-step cure that automatically channels self-interest to serve the common good.  The tragedy of the commons, the prisoner’s dilemma, and many other readily applicable scenarios show the limitations of this concept.

          Further, you seem to have misunderstood my argument.  I do not assume that taxpayers would need to spend hours and hours poring over anything in order to determine what the public good is; I argue that taxpayers would need to spend those hours merely to determine their own self-interest.  Without that, you don’t have rational actors, and the premises for an invisible hand argument have not been established.

          • Anonymous

            In fact, I googled for commons dillemma on this website, which brought me to this one and only occasion where it is mentioned. That seems to be some kind of a blindspot for free-market proponents and magical thinking like ‘invisible hand’.

          • Anonymous

            I see…well, as a matter of fact, ‘restructuring the welfare system along the lines of a negative income tax’ is something that is supported by 80% of the economists in the US.

            It was also in the political program of a progressive-liberal/social-libertarian  (‘green’, whatever) party in the Netherlands in the 90ies.
            To some degree it now exists as subsidies for rent and (mandated) health insurance and childcare.

            Free-riders are a risk with Public Good (Dillemma), but Commons Dillemma (or Tradegy of the Commons) is the risk of complete depletion of resources, when everyone pursues their own short-term happiness (interests).

            The buffalo was almost completely decimated in less than 50 years. The buffalo as a species survived, but many Native Americans died from starvation.  Dust bowls were predicted, but ignored. Laissez-faire… 

            It suprises me that Social Dillema is beyond the scope of political philosophy. 
            It’s not just focus of political economy, but also biology/ecology,
            (social)-psychology (and behavioral economics) and mathemathics (game-theory).

      • Because few people would directly allocate their taxes to public goods.

        • Yes, you did hijack the threat (three times). And again, you are not paying attention to the criticism. Tyler said that “few people would directly allocate their taxes to public goods.” Meaning, they would allocate them to programs/projects that are beneficial to them personally, and not to public goods. For example, people would fund their local park or soup kitchen, but not the military or clean air. Because people are greedy and self-centered — which is why we have a freerider problem in the first place. 

          • Damien S.

            I have to say, seeing an idea plumped in every thread, relevant or not, strongly triggers my heuristics for not spending time thinking about the idea…

          • Yes, we all have different values. So what. Life is a rich tapestry. But people will still free ride.  But please save your pet cause for a post that is actually relevant to it. 

          • You may not realize it, but most of the arguments in this thread–if all of the rhetorical fluff is removed–seem to be supporting the principles of voluntaryism/market anarchism.

            If you were to look past all of the irrelevant utilitarian arguments, and focus on the basic moral truths of human existence, you might find that you are more in line with anarcho-capitalist philosophy than you previously thought.

          • Lysander Spooner

            That would require brutal intellectual honesty.  It’s easier to continue to support theft because we think we get free services out of it.

          • I’m not sure who “you” is in this case, but I agree that many people on who participate in these discussions favor market anarchism. I am certainly not one of them, however. 

      • Anonymous

        How will that limit taxation? Seems obvious (put a Pub Choice hat on) that if the allocation of funds defined by everyone self-allocating does not provide sufficient funding for the spending programs of the politically powerful (i.e., wealth transfers are not maximizing political objectives) more money will be demanded from society by government.

        I think you’re missing a key point in Jason’s post.

        • Anonymous

          Correct, you didn’t answer the question.

          • Anonymous

            You’re still missing the point*. If you’re a pacifist you indicate that none of your taxes go to support the war department.  If the war department is lacking the money to accomplish the objectives of politicians’ (which are not representative of “the people”) you will end up paying more in taxes. This may increase the spending on your preferred programs — perhaps to a point where you see them as misallocations.

            * Well one point.

    • Guest

      Two words: Gabriel Kolko

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  • Russell Fox

    I’m just glad that you recognized in the  body of your post that us on the radical/populist/socialist/anarchist left are pretty much innocent in this whole sorry history of corporatism. Your title could use some correction, though.

  • berserkrl

    The left certainly bears some of the blame.  And so does the right.  But we libertarians haven’t been innocent either.

  • Anonymous

    Really quite a wonderful post.  Although I’ve had high hopes for this blog, and have occasionally enjoyed some of the posts, most of them have seemed tedious and technical, sometimes even trivial.  This one is fantastic and, despite the quibbles in the comments, pretty much spot on.  The best news I’ve heard all evening, by far.

  • Craig Duncan

    I’m not a libertarian.  I look at real life social democracies, such as those in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany, etc., and I say “I’d like the US to be more like that.”  Is public choice theory somehow supposed to show that that is impossible? That would be strange, since such social democracies actually exist.

    Of course, the author of the post could say that this wish of mine makes me a member of the radical left, not the moderate left, and thus it makes me outside the intended audience of his post (since the post was directed at members of the moderate left).  But that would be strange, since it amounts to labeling millions of ordinary Europeans “radical”…

    • Anonymous

      How about real life social democracies like Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Spain, and Portugal? Or do you deny that the imminent collapse of the Eurozone is in any way attributable to the massive government debt those nations issued specifically to finance their social welfare programs?

      The fact that states like Sweden and Germany exist is not evidence that their social welfare programs are sustainable in the long term. At best there is evidence that better fiscal administration has placed their programs farther away from insolvency than those of their neighbors.

      • Damien S.

        Yep, I deny.  Since Spain and Ireland were running budget surpluses before the crisis, and Austria is more fiscally sound than Germany yet is now having bond trouble — actually, so is Germany.  The collapse of the eurozone will come from the same reasons that a gold standard doesn’t work well.  The euro countries gave up monetary policy without getting the labor mobility and fiscal (taxes, welfare) union that the USA has, and the contradictions that skeptical economists predicted have now come to pass.  Meanwhile countries that borrow in currency they print — Japan, UK, US, or hell, Iceland — aren’t in the same trouble, despite similar or greater debt burdens.  (Iceland has its own problems but is recovering better than Ireland.)

        Euro meant capital surges into the periphery, and inflation.  Getting spooked about Greece made the capital flow out.  But prices are sticky and deflation is hard, and those countries can’t devalue because of the euro.  If the ECB let inflation rise then they could unwind by inflating less than Germany.  If the eurozone had region-wide taxation and income security than the human misery would be less.  But instead the ECB is raising rates and the German voters balk at solidarity.  That’s the crisis, not myths about fiscal irresponsibility.

        • Anonymous

          So your assertion is that these debtor nations are blameless and the fault lies with their creditors who insist on being repaid with currency equal in value to that which they lent? That justice would be done if only the debtors could pay back their loans with worthless devalued paper?

          • Damien S.

            The fundamental problem isn’t about debtor nations, it’s about nations where capital inflows produced a bubble driving up production costs that can’t easily come down.

            Also, a risk of default is implicit in lending, that’s part of what’s factored into interest rates.

          • Anonymous

            Risk of default is obvious. What I’m asking about is your proposed solution for the PIGS debt situation: Default or inflate? The two differ significantly.

          • Damien S.

            That’s not the key question.  The question is how they can pull out of recession and get back to full employment.  Debt will look a lot easier to bear when they’re not at 20% unemployment.  And why are they in recession?  Capital flows and asset bubbles drove up prices, so their costs of production are 30-40% higher than in Germany.  The usual sovereign solution for this, automatic even, would be devaluation.  But that can’t happen, they’re on the euro.  So they need to deflate, but that’s painful, hard, and damaging.

            If the eurozone as a whole had decent inflation, the could deflate relatively: 0.5% inflation in Spain, 5% inflation in Germany, say.  That would still take 5-6 years to unwind a 30% differential, so still painful, but not a lost decade or generation.  But the ECB is committed to keeping inflation under 2%, so that won’t work.

            Or they could pull out of the euro, and devalue.  At that point we can notice their debts — public and private — probably still denominated in euros, such that at least a partial default would look attractive, since a sudden 30% rise in debt is no fun either.  Of course, even without currency change, one might decide that debt taken on in an asset bubble was not sustainable, and default on it.  Teach the bankers to do better diligence next time.

            But this is like OWS in a nutshell.  The top 0.1% asks “how can we get repaid?” and the bottom 99.9% ask “how can we get jobs?”

    • Anonymous

      Compare population size and the distance from decision-making to implementation? Also, what is the composition of these populations? Equally pluralistic to US or more homogenous?

  • Anonymous

    I wasn’t expecting a polemic like that on this blog.   I don’t necessarily disagree with it, but if the purpose of this blog is to provide an outreach to the left to show how libertarian views intersect progressive views, it doesn’t seem productive to attack the very demographic you’re wanting to appeal to.  You end up driving them away and instead attracting the flamers (myself included) that love this type of rhetoric.  But I can find plenty of other sites which already appeal to the ideologue and conservative libertarian.  This post seems out of character to me, but I’m new around here so maybe I need to listen a bit more. 

    • sometimes unpleasant things have to be said.

      • Anonymous

        I’m with you there Zemens.  This polemic rings true to me, and it
        feels really good to see it.  But I’m suspicious
        that it’s “pyrrhic speech,” like telling off your mother-in-law.  It feels good, and you may be right, but it’s
        still counterproductive.  Or to say it
        another way, you can do the right thing in the wrong way which makes it the
        wrong thing. 


        For example, for some reason I’ve developed close
        relationships with a number of lefty types. 
        I’ve noticed that my purist libertarian arguments seem to fall short
        with them and after reading this blog I can see why.  To rebuild some credibility with them, I’ve
        referred them heavily to this site, and some of them have giving me positive initial
        reviews.  This felt to me like the first
        step in a possible ideological conversion. 
        But now, if they come here and read this polemic against them, they won’t
        come back and the cause of liberty has lost a potential convert.

        • Anonymous

          Cautious Fan, I’m with you, although when I shared this post with a left-leaning friend, we had a good laugh re: something must have pissed off Jason Brennan that motivated the post. 

  • How about a non-corporatist alliance of libertarians and progressives supporting a Ron Paul/Bernie Sanders ticket? http://progressivesforronpaul.blogspot.com/2011/08/this-blog-is-not-about-endorsing.html

  • Aeon Skoble

    Excellent post.

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  • Stefan Molyneux

    Amen, great post!

  •  This piece kind of takes public choice as given. I do not think it is such. Sen worked hard showing how public choice theory falls apart when tested on iterated interactions. Mancur Olsen, James Buchanan, and others also question the reach of public choice. Like Derridean dualism, or other theoretical breakthroughs, it has been used badly by some as a theory that explains all. Additionally, one has to recognize that the political and the economic have been linked for 100s, if not 1000s, of years. To decide that there will be no interaction at all between politics and economics is to think we can remake the world in a new way with no connection to the years and years of development. Hell, even libertarians want enforcement of contracts and private property. (This is unless youre a kind of Rothbard-style anarcho-capitalist.) So there is no question government is involved in economics, hence, we just have to decide to whose benefit it will serve.Also, this piece ignores the real progress center-left policies have had since the 30s. I suppose there is room for disagreement, but policies such as social security, FDIC, the FDA, rural electrification, the interstate highway system, NASA, Medicare/caid, Civil Rights Act, Fair Housing Act, Family Medical Leave Act, Clean Air Act, American with Disabilities Act, Title 9, and others have all been center-left interventions into the economy that have greatly improved the quality of life in the U.S. So, if the center-left has some blame for corporatism because center-left people tend to believe in cooperation between business and government, I think we need to place the above-listed “credits” on the center-left side of the ledger also.

  • Anonymous

    Damn, you beat me to it.  I was organizing my thoughts to write a similar article on my blog.

  • Anonymous

    Bravo, Jason. Bravo.

  • I’m not really sure who the “moderate left” is supposed to be. I think the author means “politicians who are typically members of the democratic party”. The word “corporatism” has at least three different meanings, but I assume that the author means the definition that you typically read on blogs these days…basically “corporatism” as generally the same as “crony capitalism” or perhaps “state capitalism”.
    If I’m correct with these definitions it seems to me that its not just the “moderate left” but a whole constellation of stakeholders who are responsible for our current system of  state-sponsored capitalism. Its politicians, bureaucrats, major companies, lobbying firms etc. Indeed, if the “moderate left” is largely responsible for “corporatism” we would expect corporatism to wax and wane with the political power of the moderate left…..so 2002-2006 would have been an era of low corporatism at the federal level.  That’s probably not the case and an idea that could be tested empirically. Or we could use state or county level data and see if the power of the moderate left in a particular state or county put upward pressure on the degree of cronyism in that state or county….I’m not sure that we would find the relationship the author seems to be suggesting…..but I could be reading him wrong…..

    “It’s public choice economics. You recognized, rightly, that public choice economics was a threat to your ideology. So, you didn’t listen, because you didn’t want to be wrong. Public choice predicted that the government programs you created with the goal of fixing problems would often instead exacerbate those problems. Well, the evidence is in. You were wrong and public choice theory was right. If you have any decency, it is time to admit you were wrong and change. Stop making things worse.”

    now this part is just silly. I doubt that many in the “moderate left” have any idea what public choice economics is. Indeed, beyond academia I doubt that very few right leaning folks have heard of public choice economics or could even begin to define it.  Public choice is not even the dominant paradigm in economics!  Even in the right-leaning libertarian blogosphere you are more apt to hear arguments that are quasi-Austrian than quasi- public choice. The author doesn’t define any “government programs” nor offer any idea how to determine whether or not they were a success or failure or made problems worse (BTW this is not exactly what PC economics says…..). When you do policy analysis, its all about criteria and metrics.  Honestly I really don’t get the bitter tone here…..the social sciences are highly fragmented and full of divergent frameworks that scholars use to answer questions….the author has an impressive CV so I am sure he is aware of academic diversity….but here he seems to be jousting with windmills…..expecting your chosen paradigm to dominate all others (and influence public policy) is a little silly……

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  • Fernando Teson

    Terrific post, Jason, although I would give credit to Reagan for helping win the Cold War. I’m enough of a Hobbesian to still believe that defeating foreign enemies of freedom matters.

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  • CFV

    In my opinion, the interesting theoretical question (sorry if the post was only intended for polemical purposes…) is, having agreed on the diagnosis (EE.UU. is a plutocratic State of the sort described by, for example, G. W. Domhoff), whether it is possible or not, to be no one’s fault (!):

    “A plutocratic ruling class need not operate via conscious machination, of course (though such machinations are not necessarily to be ruled out, either). A malign invisible hand process may come into play instead. Suppose that a variety of governmental policies are proposed or adopted, perhaps at random. Those that adversely affect entrenched and concentrated interests will get noticed and become the object of attack. By contrast, those  that injure the average person will meet with less opposition, since the average people are too busy to keep track of what the government is doing, too poor to hire lawyers and lobbyists, and too dispersed to have an effective voice. Thus, legislation which is disadvantageous to the rich will tend to be filtered out, while legislation which is disadvantageous to the poor will not. Over time, this skews state action more and more in the direction of  advancing the interests of the powerful at the expense of those of the weak.” (Cf. Long, Roderick T., “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Class”, Social Philosophy & Policy 15 (2) : 303-349, at 327).

  • So, learn some public choice, and use what you learn in practice. I’m ready to forgive you, if you’re ready to change.
    I’m sure many moderate leftists earnestly await the forgiveness of libertarians.

  • Damien S.

    Nozick held open the possibility that side constraints (including those
    against property redistribution) might have to be violated to “void
    catastrophic moral horror.” … Lockean proviso…

    That’s good to hear about Nozick, but it seems to move us from the land of pure principle to haggling over the price, as the parable says.  A common leftist view would be that the real world is full of such catastrophic moral horror and violations of the Lockean proviso, not to mention even more coercive property acquisition, that Earth is my island, only instead of 3 and 1 families, it’s 10 million and a billion families.

    I note that shemsky seems willing to bite the bullet, just as geoih here told me that Rothbard’s advocacy of land reform in post-colonial Latin America was a mistake, and I’ve seen Hayek’s acceptance of social insurance dismissed as an inconsistency or error by the great man.  Like the Founding Fathers, the great thinkers of libertarianism seem more leftist than their followers.  But if libertarians can’t even agree with them, how will they find common ground with liberals on “bleeding heart” issues?

    • Anonymous

      Progressives say that they care about those in need, and I take them at their word, Damien. I also care about those in need, and want to help them when I can. That’s our common ground. The difference is in how we each propose to help people who need it. I’m not willing to deny or sacrifice the sovereignty of the individual to do that. I’m even willing to come out and say that individuals have a right to be indifferent to the troubles of others, so long as they did not cause them, even though I don’t have any liking for those individuals. Some people are just rotten and don’t care about anyone but themselves. I want nothing to do with these people. But that doesn’t give the rest of us the right to make them act as we would towards those in need.

      As for Hayek and the founders, they’re just human beings and can be wrong about some things even as they are right about others. None of us is infallable. I admire much of what they had to say, but I’m not going to hold them up as idols that can never be wrong about anything (like some people do with Ayn Rand).

    • Anonymous

      One of the things that makes ASU such a great book in my opinion is that it not only includes clever and original arguments in favor of libertarian rights and against “patterned” principles of justce, but it provides a treasure trove of additional avenues of research that Nozick did not fully explore. If (and I recognize this is a big “if”), the Lockean proviso can be shown to reach the sorts of cases you imagine, then this would represent not “haggling over the price” as you say, but a consistent theory of justice that preserves stringent property rights generally, while limiting them in a way consistent with the moral intuitions of many of us.

      Since our different political prescriptions arise mostly (I think) from our allegiance to distinct first moral principles, then there is no way to find common ground between libertarians and modern day “liberals.” But, perhaps the BHLs can convincde me otherwise.

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  • It is always interesting to see the Left try to squirm and wiggle out of this non-obvious truth, but even more fun to watch the process in action. For example, in this week’s Senate vote to pass the NDAA, the bill was passed by a 93-7 majority. The Senate is controlled by Democrats. The opponents were 3 Ds, 3Rs, and one Independent (Bernie Sanders). 48 Ds, 44 Rs, and one Independent (Joe Lieberman) voted for.

    Here’s the Left Wing reaction:

    Naturally, the Left believes this to be the fault of Republicans. The author says, “Just imagine if Republicans captured the White House in 2012. Conservative media, corporations, and Republican politicians have referred to the Occupy protesters as terrorists or worse than terrorists.” So, it’s a good thing that we’re getting this law while the Democrats are in charge? The commenters fare no better:  “The republicans always whine and complain that the government get’s too involved in people’s lives, but here they are, trying to turn America in gitmo.” Gitmo — is that still operational? I thought we were going to have more change, hope, and cowbell, and less Gitmo? Another commenter: “More of our rights stripped from American citizens, thank you very much GOP and blue dogs…” Um, you do understand that Harry Reid is the majority leader for a reason, right?And the Obama Administration is threatening veto, but not over those controversial parts of the bill. But no matter, the Left has figured out that even though their guys control the Senate and the White House (and thus the Defense Department), somehow this is the fault of the Right. Later, when the Right abuses it, they’ll note that, but forget how it got there in the first place. When the Right does it, it won’t be the first time. Detention without a trial over “secret” evidence was tried and true by the Clinton Administration well before W. got into office (and probably didn’t start with Bill).

    A few years back, the Crooked Timber Gang asked Tyler Cowen what he thought of Hirschman. I’m sure they were disappointed to find that he was not only familiar, but enthusiastic about Hirschman. I have always wondered what the Left thinks about Gabriel Kolko. Some of them (Howard Zinn for example) appear to have read but not understood him.

  • Anonymous

    Great article. One question; are you implying by your use of the term “moderate left”, that somehow the “moderate right”  (however you define that straw-man left/right thing) is not just as responsible for corrupt crony-capitalism?  How about every member of the corporate/political elite since at least the time of Lyndon Johnson?

  • A Koenig

    I loved your perspective of this. Don’t mind your critics. You probably know as well as I do that free speech is always an invite for criticism. Corporatism seems forgotten from the general public, as people tend to have their fingers shoved into their eyeballs…oblivious, I guess. What I would like to point out is that although Ron’s administration was guilty of allowing other party members to spend more during his reign, I must say that it wasn’t entirely his fault. You always have to please your opposing party. There are things we could probably learn from each other but that’s enough for now. Thanks for sharing your views.

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  • Fantastic post! Just linked to it.

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  • Anonymous

    This is an admission of defeat/ cry for help from the Libertarian right using everyone’s favorite whipping boys/paper tiger, the Democratic establishment. No true Libertarian can oppose unfettered corporations and co-opted regulatory agencies– it’s their vision of paradise. Only it doesn’t work for anyone but the super-rich John Galt vampires of the world. Ayn Rand told tens of thousands of you you’re not successful because the government is keeping you down and so you went to work for the GOP and its various tentacles. That translated into the whittling away of meaningful government oversight on predatory capitalism. They bled the minorities dry and now they’re coming for you.

    You made this cold, hard concrete bed for the rest of the world–now make yourself comfortable. Oh, you didn’t think you were in line for the chopping block too?

  • Apparently I must have missed that grand libertarian plan that manages to make business influence on government regulation unprofitable and irrational.

    1. Shrink government
    2. ????
    3. Businesses stop using power and influence on government

    Grow the fuck up.

    • Sorry, that’s the Nirvana Fallacy.

      Dropping f-bombs doesn’t really make the case that you are in a position to judge maturity.

  • Scott Johnson

    When you say “moderate left”, you do you mean, precisely?  Anyone who isn’t a libertarian?  Or specific factions within the Democratic Party and their ideological predecessors?

    If you mean the former, then this post is somewhat vacuous.  Libertarians have never had power in the US, and thus can blame all of societies’ ills on the union of all the political factions that HAVE held power.  So what–communists, socialists, fascists, and a few other groups that also haven’t held power can make the same argument.

    If you’re singling out a particular subset of the ideologies which actually HAVE held power–and your reference to “50-60 years” makes it suspect you’re railing against the New Deal and its progeny–this the essence of this post is simply false.  Big corporations, and other arrangements by which capital was concentrated, long predated the New Deal.  The corporate forms present in the Gilded Age are different than from now, of course–the interlocking trusts that were common in the late 19th century are not common nowadays (though the term “anti-trust” survives, though nowadays referring to monopolies regardless of corporate form); but big business has long predated FDR–and indeed, long predated the Republic.

    Economies of scale generally require large concentrations of capital to exist, and this is a big reason why large business entities come into being.  Overregulation can increase the efficiences involved in large scale, certainly–many small businesses struggle with the technical requirements tax returns and payroll and the like, but this small potatoes compared to the efficiencies of large-scale mass production, being able to buy and sell in large quantities, and such.

    • You’re missing the point. If it wasn’t for liberals, all businessmen would be Galtian men of honor! But our liberal ideas have forced them to engage in things like regulatory capture and corrupted their sweet innocent nature.

      • Scott Johnson

        As I often say to my good Libertarian friend–blaming the government for crony capitalism is like blaming hookers for corrupting the morals of innocent young sailors.

  • This is fucking hilarious. And it’s laughing at you, not with you.

  • Anonymous

    For a sec., you had me.  Then this: “Obama spent it having his military murder innocent Afghan children.”

    And so, you lost me again.


    Next time, stay focused.

  • Anonymous

    Ahistorical claptrap. I’m sure that felt really neat to write , but it’s pure fantasy.

  • Anonymous

    It’s interesting rhetoric, I suppose worth considering, but don’t you think your arguments would carry a little more weight with actual examples that prove your point? I’d like to believe in Libertarianism, if there was any reasonable provenance to actually show it works in the real world. But theories do eventually have to be proven and and this whole notion of a “free market” where libertarianism is the grand equalizer is about as believable as an unending supply of free kittens made of rainbows and unicorn farts. Where’s the beef?

  • Damien S.

    “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and
    diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public,
    or in some contrivance to raise prices.” — Adam Smith

  • I notice how you neglect to mention the past 100 years. Corporatism got it’s start much earlier than 50 years ago. Monopolies were rampant at the turn of the century, corporations divided the country into their own personal fiefdoms. Workers were forced to buy their goods from company stores to live in company housing turning them into wage slaves. Entire states were essentially owned by certain wealthy businessmen. Textbook Corporatism, and it wasn’t caused by Liberal policies.

    This is why Liberals have little time for Libertarians, you’re fantasy landers who have no basis in reality you pick and choose facts that suit what you want ignoring reality when it fits.

    You know what beat back the rising Corporatism of the early part of last century? Increasing the power of the Workers to bargain for wages. Making sure people could work for an honest and fair wage. Making it easier for people to vote. Giving them a better education so they understood their rights. Decreasing the power of monopolies. Fighting Wall Street corruption with regulation.

    Libertarian theology led us into the last Great Depression and it caused the latest Great Recession, it is certainly not the answer to give the keys back to the person who drove us off the cliff in the first place.

    • Nothing “beat back the rising Corporatism of the early part of last century.” Rather, the Progressive movement embraced it. The commenters clustered around this one would do well to drop their condescension given their lack of knowledge about that era and about corporatism in general. It’s only partly what you don’t know, it’s also what you think you know that just ain’t so.

      Teddy Roosevelt, the Trust Buster, heartily endorsed Herbert Croly’s New Nationalism, and the feeling was mutual. Croly’s program was supportive of Big Business (so long as they played along), Big Labor (so long as the played along with Big Business), and colonialism. Under Wilson, they gave us the War Industries Board and Jim Crow while tearing down LaFolette because he opposed the war. Most legislation from that period that is thought of as “progressive” and “regulating business” was endorsed and in some cases even written by the regulated businesses themselves, especially by the House of Morgan. Kolko wrote two great books that expose the behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Federal reserve Act of 1913, the Clayton Act, and others. You need only understand that the Esch-Cummins Act allowed the establishment of *minimum* rates to understand why businesses were in favor of these things. the capstone was the New Deal’s NIRA and its open embrace of corporatism and the cozy biz-gov relationship experience of the WWI era, plus the social program written by GE CEO Gerald Swope.

      Also, in response to people looking for examples (besides the above), try this week’s NYT: Democrats lobby president in favor of for-profit colleges. For these guys, it’s about power, not altruism; you are simply the Baptists to their Bootlegger.

      The greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince the world he didn’t exist. The second greatest was to convince the world that he was the good guy.

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  • Jason, your position is understandable, but unfortunately both your history of corporatism is myopic and thus deeply flawed and your unwillingness to attack both the Right and the crony capitalists themselves is regrettable.

    The regulatory state is a result of citizens demanding that their governments “Do Something!” about corporate abuses that arose proximately from the bestowal of favors on wealthy capitalists by states, through the creation of limited liability corporations. The limited liability served to shift risks of loss for damages to public victims and away from owners, thus creating institutionalized moral hazard, agent-principal problems and growing risk externalization.

    “The Left” wrongly believes that more government is the answer to the problems created by corporatism, but you can hardly blame the Left for the creation of our corporate Frankenstein monsters in the first place.

    More thoughts here:







    • biasedmonster

      I’d say it’s an issue of definitions. The ‘left-right’ continuum’s fatal flaw is its inherent subjectivity in practice. How exactly does Jason define ‘the left?’ and how do you define the right? I find this to me a minor quibble that gets ridiculously overblown and leads to many irrelevant debates, when both sides in an argument could save a lot of time and define their terms.

      I am thus skeptical about the validity of any spectrum. If there is any context I would use it in, it would be that of Karl Hess’: http://c4ss.org/content/1010. A straight line, from the left (limited/no State) to the right (total State). Using this understanding, much of the blame for our corporatist order seems to rest rightwards, a group which includes Progressives, liberals, political socialists and conservatives. The ‘center’ is largely obscurantist nonsense.

  • Anonymous

    “…rampant, run-away corporatism and crony capitalism” predates America.  Plutocracy is the natural state of homo sapiens.  The dems and repubs are no match for the corruption.  Will the libs be?  What will the libs do differently? Inquiring minds need to know….

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  • Anonymous

    Whoa, cowboy – your entire premise is inaccurate.  Rampant, run-away corporatism and crony capitalism are as old as human ‘civilization’.  Plutocracies are an outcome of human nature in any form of government, even communism and socialism.   Government serves the interests of those who grease the wheels, e.g. elite financiers
    and CEOs, at the expense of everyone else.  For example, the Gilded Age was a time of rampant, run-away corporatism and crony capitalism.  Seventy (Roosevelt admin) years ago, the government stepped in to address some of these age-old issues.  Civil rights have been improved significantly, but rampant, run-away corporatism and crony capitalism has continued to grow unchecked.

    “What is the chief end of man?–to get rich. In what way?–dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must.”
    — Mark Twain-1871

    At one time, families moved away from civilization to find liberty.  There is nowhere to hide anymore.  Can libertarianism step out of the miasma of theory and step in to realistically increase individual  liberty in this plutocracy while reducing the role of government?

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  • The author acknowledges that corporations are too powerful, cannot explain what the establishment should to do about it other than to ‘stop’.

    Stand aside for the robber barons, right?

    • Gabriel Mitchell

      Deregulation/Tax cuts would increase competition.This is why many corporations are still in support of increased regulation, as it stamps out the little guy.
      Example, WalMart supports an increase in minimum wage. Why? Because they could afford to pay the increase but their smaller competitors could not.
      The best way give the power back to the working class, would be to cut only the barriers in the way.

      • Erik

        Perfect response.

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  • eselpee

    What? Get real! You are a democrat-hater, and so offer a ridiculously
    off-balance opinion.

    Corporate power is the decedent of feudalism-like power pyramids, but was clearly
    established in modern form by…

    “The Rothschild
    family ( /ˈrɒθs.tʃaɪld/, German: [ˈʁoːt.ʃɪlt], French: [ʁɔt.ʃild], Italian: [ˈrɔtʃild]), known as the House of Rothschild,[1] or more simply as the Rothschilds,
    is a European banking dynasty,
    of German-Jewish origin, that established European banking and finance houses
    starting in the late 18th century. Five lines of the Austrian branch of the
    family have been elevated to Austrian nobility, being given hereditary baronies of the
    Habsburg Empire by Emperor Francis II in
    1816. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothschild_family).

    We the people have been
    dealing with “corporations” for millennia – long before democrats –

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  • ThaomasH

    This would be a good post if brought down to specifics.
    At any rate it would be useful to distinuish two different cases in which liberals mess things up from the Libertairan or even the BHL perspective:
    Differences over ends: redistributive policies (a progressive inome tax) are wrong.
    Differences over what to do when the Libertarian solution (carbon tax) to a problem (global warming) are politiclly unavailable and an improper solution (subsidies for “green technologies”) is chosen.

  • Ignatz

    It is partially the fault of the left. But the less regulation, the more conglomeration.

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  • Zaereth

    Isn’t it funny how the party funded and practically founded by the Koch brothers (David ran for VP on their ticket at the beginning of the 80’s, remember?) is full of people lamenting the state of corporate power in America?

    I like how this guy doesn’t actually point to a single fact anywhere in his article. You know how you can tell someone is full of it? When they spend the entire time yelling at their political rival without backing up what they say with even one fact.

    The liars at Fox (who aren’t truthful in even 20% of the stories they report on according to a recent politifact evaluation) understand this. Its why they constantly fabricate things that look like facts, just to make it seem as if they’re actually backing up what they say. But this guy doesn’t even do that. Not one law, not one vote, not one report, not a single shred of actual information.

    If we want to read an opinion piece ranting against the left, we can go to any Yahoo news article for that. Until you can come up with some actual economic evidence to support your claim that ALL of the corporatocracy’s power is to be blamed on the left, you’ve got all your work ahead of you yet.

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