Julian Sanchez’s preresignation over the Kochtopus-Cato Kerfuffel has caused some commentators to gleefully point out the ‘hypocrisy’ of Sanchez and other lefty libertarians. Sanchez himself has a terrific take-down of this line of response. Here is my favorite part:

“I realize progressives think libertarianism is just code for uncritical worship of rich people, but  as that’s not actually the case, the only irony here is that people think they’re scoring some kind of gotcha point when they’re actually exposing the silliness of their own caricature.”

Pretty awesome, isn’t it?

Somehow that response didn’t appease anyone (surprise!) Corey Robin writes that Sanchez’s presignation just illustrates how Sanchez affirms that it sucks when financial pressures ‘force’ people to do work that they find disagreeable or objectionable. Therefore, Sanchez himself is implicitly committed to the Marxist critique of capitalism:

So if liberty is the absence of coercion, as many libertarians claim, and if the capacity to act—say, by enjoying material conditions that would free one of the costs that quitting might entail—limits the reach of that coercion, is it not the case that freedom is augmented when people’s ability to act is enhanced?… That, it seems to me, is the great divide between right and left: not that the former stands for freedom, while the latter stands for equality (or statism or whatever), but that the former stands for freedom for the few, while the latter stands for freedom for the many.

While I don’t agree with Robin’s argument, I do think that something like this criticism does land against a certain kind of extreme libertarianism, the people who deny easy rescue ( e.g. Randians.) Certainly there are elements to libertarianism that do deny any positive duties and discourage any assistance.

But to say that libertarianism is intrinsically committed to this view is just as uncharitable as a libertarian’s caricature of the left as a bunch of state-worshiping freedom-hating neo-Stalinists.

Who’s really the hypocrite here? Critics on the left seemingly delight in attacking the most extreme version of libertarianism, and then attributing that extreme picture to every libertarian they meet. (Btw I think that there is something to be said for that extreme picture so it is worth fighting back even in favor of the extreme version) But libertarian thought as a whole is on much stronger ground than its most extreme strand.

I think one reason for the progressive resistance to the more moderate versions of libertarianism stems from the fact that moderate libertarians are in many ways beating them at their own game. As Glenn Greenwald and Matt Stoller have both brilliantly argued, libertarian politics is currently more in line with progressive values than popular progressive political candidates.

But I also suspect that there’s a deeper, more fundamental anxiety about libertarians that goes beyond politics. Internal to progressivism there is a tension between its historical pro-union and direct governmentalist roots and its avowed concern for the worst off. In practice, it looks like direct governmental intervention and union support no longer works to the benefit of society’s worst off. Progressive opposition to policies like voucher programs are a great example of this tension, as is the current health care mess and the regressive social security system. In a lot of cases, market solutions do a better job of furthering progressive aims than the state run policies that progressives favor, and even the worst off value economic liberty.

I believe that the best version of libertarianism is one that cares about social justice. Similarly, the best version of progressivism is one that recognizes the power of markets. Insofar as we’re all concerned with helping the poor we should both set aside our straw men and get down to the business of figuring out a) what works and b) when (if ever) it is permissible to further social goals by violating economic and civil liberties. That’s where the real disagreement should be, not in whose caricature portrait of the other side is more awful.

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  • adellutri

    Sorry, this is completely absurd.

    The “libertarianism that believes in social justice”/”progressivism that understands power of markets” already has a name:  liberalism. That is a definition of liberalism. Similarly “libertarians who believe is social justice” is obviously an oxymoron. If libertarians were to, by some accident, become interested in social justice, they would thereby become liberals.

    The situation with Cato is illustrative of libertarian thought because it shows that they do not, in fact, believe in following their own laws. Like other forms of authoritarian, libertarians believe that laws are for the followers not the leaders. Unlike most authoritarian followers, libertarians mistakenly believe they are leaders. Charles Koch is doing them a favor, showing them this is untrue in a way even they may be able to understand.

    • bcwatkins

      The only way they would not be following their own laws is if the CATO people went outside the courts to try and get some legislation passed to keep the Kochs from taking control. I don’t know where you get the idea that resolving contract disputes in court or using public opinion (instead of the force of government, this is a key difference) to get the Kochs to drop their case is against mainstream libertarian doctrine.

      • adellutri

         Simple. It’s because whenever a group other than the Cato-ites tries to use the courts to fight off a hostile takeover from a powerful corporation, the Cato-ites are always in favor of the powerful corporation. Their authoritarian nature always wins. Only this time, the group being taken over is them.

        • bcwatkins

          CATO has been fighting eminent domain abuse for as long as I remember. It seems you need to educate yourself on what CATO’s positions actually are.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/456XN546VL5SQXJYABIIIDBVKE Jstr00az

          Please give some examples of “whenever a group other than Cato” seeks redress in the courts, Cato-ites are “always in favor of the powerful corporation.”  Have you actually examined anything Cato has done on regulations?

      • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

        “I don’t know where you get the idea that resolving contract disputes in
        court or using public opinion (instead of the force of government, this
        is a key difference) to get the Kochs to drop their case is against
        mainstream libertarian doctrine.”

        Ok, this is where I get a little confused.  How would Sanchez or for
        that matter the judges decided against the Kochs if they chose to ignore
        the decision?  The Kochs already seem to be completely indifferent to
        public opinion, so let’s rule out the possibility of public opinion as a
        meaningful enforcement mechanism in a Libertarian legal system as well.

        Then what?  Either the judges can say only say “aww, pretty please” or
        else they can authorize someone like, oh, say, a bailiff, a sheriff, a
        marshal, or (if the Kochs resist violently) a SWAT team to enforce their
        decision with… well… force.

        Whereupon you’re back at what Libertarians claim is the the quintessential, and objectionable, definition of government.

        I’m not saying Libertarian idealism makes enforcement impossible.  I’m just confused about how it’s supposed to work.

        figleaf

        • Nickels

          It is my admittedly amateurish understanding of Libertarianism that contract enforcement is generally considered an acceptable role for government to play. This is a dispute over an existing contract that all actors involved are party to. 

      • theorlonater

        Ditto, libertarianism isn’t a political philosophy that says it’s going to totally eliminate disputes…

    • Jessica Flanigan

      In some sense, I don’t really care whether you call a view that likes free markets and social justice libertarianism or liberalism or liberaltarianism or whatever. If you think this view is liberalism then rock on and I’m glad we agree. But I am skeptical that we do. Here is why.

      I do think that a lot of liberals (what philosophers sometimes call ‘high liberals’) are skeptical of things that libertarians embrace, like thick economic liberties including unconditional freedom of contract and the right to own productive property. This isn’t a caricature view of liberalism, high liberal theorists like Samuel Freeman explicitly distinguish themselves from libertarianism on the basis of these kinds of disagreements about economic freedom. Liberals also sometimes oppose policies like open borders, or are silent on the issue, and liberals are far more comfortable with state paternalism in general.

      Thats where the real disagreement is. We’re all after justice, but we disagree about how to get there and whether we can limit important freedoms for the sake of people’s welfare.

      • Damien S.

        “unconditional freedom of contract”

        Do you endorse the freedom to sell oneself into permanent slavery, or to let oneself be killed in return for familial compensation?  If not, aren’t you skeptical about unconditional freedom of contract at some point?

        “sometimes oppose policies like open borders”

        True.  Though back when I was libertarian, and endorsing open borders and free immigration in general, I worried about an edge case of a foreign army “immigrating” freely inside, so as to be able to strike from within.

        Modern liberals are also a lot less skeptical about externalities and other market imperfections, and thus can endorse government interventions and regulations which we see as improving markets rather than interfering them.  Libertarians can be crudely divided into “Yes, but” (“we acknowledge your concerns but think public choice problems undermine your solutions, leaving the original problem insoluble”) and “Nonono!” (“externalities don’t exist!!!”)

      • https://twitter.com/#!/AaronMDellutri Aaron Dellutri

         Jessica: OK. If you’re a pro-social-justice-”left-libertarian”, but also feel that
        there’s something inherently lacking in “liberalism”, then from your
        point of view it makes sense for you to continue to defend the brand of
        “libertarianism”. I respect that.

        I feel you should realize that the brand “libertarianism” is
        majority-owned by right-wingers who consider the idea “social justice”
        to be pernicious, and are engaging in ideological warfare against the
        idea. As one aspect of this ideological conflict, the “libertarian”
        majority-owners find ways to integrate “libertarian” ideas with those of
        the political right, in order to more closely bind “libertarians” into
        their right forces. As a recent example of this integration consider
        the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the
        Affordable Heath Care Act of 2010
        , or the very recent
        controversy with Rush Limbaugh
        arguing that the state should not pay for the reproductive heath of
        Sandra Fluke
        and similar young single women. Both of these
        examples are part of a larger campaign that combines “libertarian”-brand
        ideas (the state should not pay for healthcare) with those of the
        religious right (women’s sexuality needs to be controlled). This
        combination has been successful, with the religious right using
        “libertarian”-brand ideas, and the “libertarians” using
        religious-right-brand ideas.

        • theorlonater

          You mean such crazed “right-wing” cranks such as F.A. Hayek, whom nobody has learned anything useful from, right?

    • j r

      Like other forms of authoritarian, libertarians believe that laws are for the followers not the leaders.

      I am not sure how anyone who could author that sentence has any standing to call someone else absurd.  You quite plainly do not know what the words “authoritarian” and “libertarian” mean.  You probably think that you do, but I assure you that you do not.

      There are any number of legitimate criticisms that one can level against libertarians, but this is not one of them.  You can’t criticize the color black for being too white.

    • Andrew Prock

      Quite.

      The elevation of property rights over civil rights is functionally equivalent to “worshiping wealth”, and does little more than paper over dogmatic libertarians “uncritical worship of rich people.”

      • 3cantuna

        “Civil rights” is just a term state socialists use to paper over their worship of the political means of acquisition and control.

  • adellutri

    Looking at your blog a little more, I suppose you would disagree about libertarians. Who knows– maybe you’re one of those hard-to-categorize people. In general, though, I’ve found that: “Libertarians are authoritarian followers who believe they are authoritarian leaders.”

    • j r

      It is more than a little ironic that someone with Spock as his avatar says such illogical things.

  • http://profiles.google.com/michael.giberson Michael Giberson

    I don’t really get the criticism. I read Sanchez as saying he didn’t want to work for a Koch-controlled Cato, so if Kochs did in fact come to control Cato he would leave. Voluntary come, voluntary go. Seems pretty libertarian-consistent to me.

    He didn’t argue the state should prevent the Kochs from exercising their rights, so far as I noticed.

    And what about Sanchez’s remark that he’d like to keep his job, that his willingness to quit is made easier by being young and lacking family commitments, etc. Robin interprets this as an implicit admission that there is a kind of coercion inherent in employment relationships, in that a not-so-young, not-so-lacking in obligations employee might decide to suck it up and stick with less desirable management (should such arise).

    I don’t find the coercion label works. We’re not talking about a relationship where if Sanchez withdraws, the Kochs can send agents of the state after him (or private enforcers!) and force him to return to his post. The Kochs won’t be able to imprison him, seize Sanchez’s assets or block him from leaving the country.

    • http://twitter.com/justinmoneill Justin

      So what if the Koch brothers can’t “imprison him, seize Sanchez’s assets or block him from leaving the country?”  If Sanchez was in a situation where he literally could not afford to live without the job, then the Koch brothers do not need those powers in order to force him into the same behavior that they could if they did have those powers.  That’s the point Robin is making – and also that this is a particular type of freedom that liberals/progressive tend to care a great deal about, but that libertarians tend think is completely unimportant or irrelevant.  

      • http://profiles.google.com/michael.giberson Michael Giberson

        Right, I agree we ought not to grant monopoly power to private entities that would leave individuals with no alternatives but to deal with the monopolist.  Empirically, I don’t think Sanchez is in any danger of being in a position where he could not afford to live without his Cato job. Talk about coercion in his case trivializes the concept.

        The danger raised in Robin’s post was that some hypothetical employee, perhaps older, more rooted and with more other obligations to worry about, might stick with an unpleasant job because the alternatives were worse. Again, calling this coercion trivializes the idea.

        If we’re talking about subsidence farmers about to be forced off of land they’ve farmed for many years because some distant billionaire wants to expand his summer vacation house, and there’s no other land to farm, then maybe we’ll talk about coercion and the loss of freedom.

        So as we don’t completely talk passed each other, I’ll agree there is a sense of the word “freedom” such that we might say, “If I got that new job paying twice what I earn now, I’d have greater freedom to travel the world during my four weeks of paid vacation.” Loss of this kind of freedom is not coercive. If the employer offering the position says it is only available only on condition that the employer gets to rewrite everything before it gets published, without employee recourse, still using the employees name, the prospective employer isn’t coercing anyone.

        • http://www.facebook.com/krishan.bhattacharya Krishan Bhattacharya


           some hypothetical employee, perhaps older, more rooted and with more other obligations to worry about, might stick with an unpleasant job because the alternatives were worse. Again, calling this coercion trivializes the idea.”

          How bad are the alternatives that you have in mind here?

      • theorlonater

        Ok, so you believe that markets tend to monopolize, now we’re in the field of economics…

    • http://www.facebook.com/krishan.bhattacharya Krishan Bhattacharya

      Ah yes, but part of Sanchez position was that he felt free to quit his job because he was young, childless, and without a mortgage. When employer’s fire or threaten to fire people who DO have these burdens (which a huge part of the workforce), their decisions have a lot more sting that to a person like Sanchez.

      But when workers who have such burdens call for rights against such employers’ whims, libertarians like to talk about the right to work and freedom of contract. Sure those people are free to quit, but they are not free to stop providing for their children. Talk of freedom of contract in the face of such issues doesn’t get us much closer to a more just or happier society. Sanchez’ argument is either so narrow as only to apply to twentysomething yuppies, or ignores the real, desperate choices faced by workers across the country.

      • theorlonater

        The person who decided  to get married, have kids, and take out a mortgage made those choices voluntarily, and if those choices come back and hurt him in the far-distant future, which as you agree they probabilistically can, then why should society be forced to “help” him in any way? Even Ronald Dworkin might agree with me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wiebe/1440756026 Michael Wiebe

    It sounds like BHLs and progressives need a Litany of Bleeding Hearts: 

    If free markets promote social justice,
    I desire to believe that free markets promote social justice;
    If government intervention promotes social justice,
    I desire to believe that government intervention promotes social justice;
    Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.

    Of course, there’s still the issue of when it is permissible to promote social justice by violating economic and civil liberties.

    Also, Corey Robin’s argument misses the essential BHL point that protecting negative rights is often the best way to promote positive liberty.

  • famadeo

    My main problem with libertarianism is what I identify as a shallow analysis on their part. As a leftist, my main concern is individual liberty. My points of diversion with libertarianism are a) a sense of freedom that does not rely narrowly on a handful of axioms like the non-agression principle or voluntaryism -which don’t guarantee a thing- and b) a wider spectrum of critique of different domains which perpetuate disparities of power among individuals (both points, are linked, really).

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bear-Nichols/9626357 Bear Nichols

       If your main concern is individual liberty, what value do you place on economic liberties?  This is normally where libertarians and leftists part ways.  As far as I know, libertarians have many tools at their disposal to define freedom:  consequentalism, contracts, non-aggression, etc.  If power disparities are important, it hardly makes sense to solve them by creating the largest power disparity in the form of government.  We share the same goals, but libertarians tend to part ways when the state is offered as the solution to power disparity because of the inherent power disparity created by the state itself.

      • famadeo

        Statist solutions are not inherent to the left as such (anarchism has historically been on the far left for a reason).

        As for economic liberties, it’s not at all clear to me that capitalism is the embodiment of this. Proponents tend to invoke the market, but capitalism is not just the market. It’s also a specific institutional structure. That’s where criticisms from the left come from. That’s the sense in which a broder spectrum of critique of authoritarianism is invoked.

        If the the infrastructure is inherently crooked, contracts, voluntaryism, non-agression just don’t cut it. They don’t guarantee freedom in a capitalist context any more than they would in a feudal context.

        • theorlonater


          As for economic liberties, it’s not at all clear to me that capitalism is the embodiment of this. Proponents tend to invoke the market, but capitalism is not just the market. It’s also a specific institutional structure. That’s where criticisms from the left come from. That’s the sense in which a broder spectrum of critique of authoritarianism is invoked.”

          So what are you, some kind of Marxist? Do you feel alienated from your “product?” If not, are you some kind of syndicalist?

          • famadeo

            I really don’t know under what label I fall under, I tend to avoid them. But I don’t really think it matters (for one thing, because it should suffice that I come from the left, about which I’ve already been explicit). If you want to object to what you quoted there, that shouldn’t stop you.

            If you want me to clarify, I’m simply raising skepticism that the number of aspects that characterize a typical bussiness arrangement are justly naturalized or necesary, since the end result is patantly authoritarian.

          • theorlonater

            Personally, I do think that labels matter because labels tend to convey and clarify what people mean. If  you’re raising skepticism toward something, then you should also mention a potential counterpart to replace that thing you are raising skepticism toward. 

            If you’re raising skepticism toward capitalism because you have found faults within it, then I expect to hear an alternative to fix those faults.

          • theorlonater

            In other words, what kind of institutional structure do you want and what do you expect from it? If your intent is to persuade others to adopt this institutional structure, you better be clear or nobody will take you seriously.

          • famadeo

            Given that the structure of capitalist institutions is so narrowly specific, the possible alternative are, frankly, endless. As I favor bottom-up structures that guarrantee a genuine sense of autonomy in the workplace,  I tend to favor those models that are horizontal and participatory rather than hierarchical. A couple of functional examples would be the recovered factories in Latin America, the Zapatistas in Mexico and the anarchists in Barcelona and Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War.

          • theorlonater

            Sounds like syndicalism to me…

  • shemsky

    Jessica, you say that there are elements of libertarianism that deny any positive duties and discourage any assistance. I understand denying positive duties (and I am in agreement there), but I’m not sure what elements would discourage any assistance. That seems wrong to me. Do you actually know any libertarians that would discourage any assistance? I don’t, and I couldn’t imagine a libertarian having that point of view. We might be accused by our enemies of having that point of view, in order to paint us as coldhearted bastards, but it’s just not true. Why would any libertarian discourage any (voluntary) assistance?

    • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

      I guess this would depend on two things.  First whether one considers Ayn Rand to be a Libertarian.  Second would be whether one considers dismissal, contempt, and repeated fictional depictions of very bad ends coming to anyone stupid or weak enough to engage in voluntary charity to be “discouraging assistance.”

      figleaf

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508203728 Walter Foddis

        Speaking of the pointlessness of creating caricatures of views you oppose, somebody is caricaturing Ayn Rand’s ideas…

        If somebody is truly interested in an Objectivist analysis of helping behaviour, please read David Kelley’s “Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence.”

  • Steven Horwitz

    I have a short and sweet comment to add to this post:  YES, this.

  • wwwhrsaccountcom

    Doug Henwood said it best summing up the theory of libertarianism: “I got mine, so fuck you.”

    • J D

      And so we count two people who either do not read or do not comprehend what they read.

      Surreal

  • http://bestbuycreditcardonline.com/www-hrsaccount-com-bestbuy-pay-bill/ hrsaccount bestbuy

    Doug Henwood said it best summing up the theory of libertarianism: “I got mine, so fuck you.”

  • geoih

    Quote from Jessica Flanigan: ”b) when (if ever) it is permissible to further social goals by violating economic and civil liberties.”

    Well, here’s your problem. Violating principles (i.e., liberty) for nebulous subjective concepts (i.e., “social goals”, whatever that means), is probably not a mechanism for agreement.

  • Pingback: Progressive Hostility Towards Libertarianism « Spatial Orientation

  • http://twitter.com/CoreyRobin corey robin

    I think some people in the comment thread, and Jessica herself in her original post, are misconstruing my position. My argument in the post is not that  someone who has few alternative options but to stay in a crappy job is coerced (though I’m certainly open to that argument, it’s not what I am saying here).  Nor is it that Sanchez’s job under the Kochs — as he describes and envisions it in his original post — would be merely “disagreeable or objectionable” to him.

    My argument is that it is the workplace itself, the job as it often experienced by many American workers (and as Sanchez sort of begins to allude to in his post), that is coercive.  I’ve written about this in my first book *Fear: The History of a Political Idea* (see chapter 8 in particular), or you can take a look at the article link I provide below, just to give you a hint of what I’m talking about.  And by coercion I don’t mean anything fancy: I really mean plain old coercion of the negative liberty type. Or, if you want to use Hayek’s sense of coercion and freedom in Constitution of Liberty: “The state in which a man is not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of another or others is often also distinguished as ‘individual’ or ‘personal’ freedom, and whenever we want to remind the reader that it is in this sense that we are using the word ‘freedom,’ we shall employ that expression.” Just taking that sense of the term, I would argue that the workplace is often the site of coercion.

    What I then say is that if the capacity to quit is one way to minimize the reach of coercion over oneself — and I think we all would agree that it is — then it seems to me that if we enhance workers’ capacity to quit, we minimize the reach of coercion.  Now Sanchez in his post says quite clearly that b/c he does not have other encumbrances like a mortgage or a family — and later in a tweet, he made a point of emphasizing that he has lots of options — he can quit quite easily.  I think we would agree that other people can’t.  So from there, I go onto make the point that if other people were materially situated in the same way as Sanchez (and I argue that state transfers and other provisions make that possible), they would be able to remove themselves as easily from a coercive situation.

    As I said, I think Sanchez gives us a beginning sense of the coerciveness off the American workplace: he describes what it would be like (or what he imagines it would be like) if he were working under the Kochs, and he says the following: he would be worried that he’d be called on the carpet for saying the wrong things; even if he weren’t called on the carpet, that mere worry would be enough for him not to be able to speak the truth as he sees it.

    Now if we extract a bit from that observation, it seems to me like he’s providing a fairly commonsensical definition of coercion (it certainly comports with what Hayek is getting at above).  But even if you don’t accept that extrapolation by me — and it’s fine if you don’t — I would say that many American workers could describe, with far greater pungency and detail, situations that are in fact coercive on anyone’s measure.  So, for instance, in the article I link to below, I describe how workers are denied bathroom breaks by their employers. Especially workers a the low end of the payscale, for whom this is routine. In the workplace of most states, you can be legally fired for driving to work sporting a bumper sticker with a message that the boss doesn’t like (there was a famous case about this in Louisiana during the 2004 presidential campaign). You can be fired by your employer for engaging in First Amendment-protected activities off the job (the ACLU has litigated and lost many of these cases.)  If you engage in political (or any other kind of disfavored) speech during your lunch break, or on other break times, you can be fired. And there’s a lot more that I describe in chapter 8 of my book.

    So the workplace is a site of coercion — which, even when that coercion is not exercised (as Sanchez makes clear in his post), can still be intimidating (merely the threat of it can change  one’s behavior).  That’s the point.  And if that’s true — I suspect many of you here will disagree with that, either on the empirical case or the analytical point — my second point is that enhancing the capacity to act (in this case, the capacity to quit, though I would also say that enhancing workers’ rights and capacities to speak up and protest these conditions — i.e., establishing negative and positive liberty) would minimize that coercion, by limiting its reach and diminishing its actual power and exercise (I assume any rational employer would stop acting coercively if s/he faced an exit en masse of workers.)

    One final note: someone in this thread says that if the boss’s sanctions don’t follow you out of the workplace, how can that be coercion?  I don’t really get that point. All of us would agree, I assume, that tsarist Russia in the late 1890s, with its pogroms and more/less, featured a hell of a lot of coercion. Yet many Jews and other Russians left it (this is the high tide of Jewish emigration to Britain, the States, and elsewhere). Would we say that b/c that coercion in Tsarist Russia didn’t follow you when you came to the States, that it wasn’t coercion?

    Sorry, didn’t mean to go on this long, but I really wanted to make sure people we’re grappling with my argument.

    • Jessica Flanigan

      IHi
      Corey! Thanks for reading this post, and for your thoughtful reply. I look
      forward to checking out your book and the link you included. I agree that I
      didn’t grapple with your argument straight-on, since the target of my post was
      more directed at the fact that libertarians are all lumped together as the
      enemies of social justice when I think that Sanchez himself demonstrates that
      it need not be so.

       

      That
      said, I do think that 1) I do not misconstrue your position and 2) the position
      you take is one worth talking about. So here I will say some things about your
      comment.

       

      First
      take 1) you said that Sanchez’s liberty was limited by the fact that the costs
      of leaving a coercive workplace were higher without some kind of a social
      safety net (what you call the ‘material conditions that would free one of the
      cost of quitting’.) Libertarians dispute that the workplace is coercive because
      you can quit. Insofar as you think that ‘the absence of coercion’ in the work
      place not only requires a right to quit but also requires the public provision
      of ‘material conditions’ this is no longer ‘plain old coercion of the negative
      liberty type’

       

      But
      that’s fine! A lot of libertarians will agree that freedom might require some material
      conditions like a UBI. What libertarians deny is that a) social welfare can be
      promoted by limiting important negative liberties like freedom of association,
      contract, and the right to own productive property and b) that paternalism is a
      permissible way to enhance welfare or even freedom and c) that the government
      should actively run the programs that aim to provide the material conditions
      for real freedom.

       

      Progressives
      disagree with a) b) and c) so there is a real difference here, but when you write
      things like “libertarians see (redistributive social policies) as not only
      irrelevant to but an infringement upon individual freedom” you are perpetuating
      a caricature view of libertarianism that fails to grapple with what I think are
      the real issues.

       

      That’s
      what brings me to point (2). In your post you argue for things like
      “unemployment compensation, guaranteed health insurance, public pensions,
      higher wages, strong unions, and state-funded or provided childcare,” as a way
      of increasing individual freedom.

       

      Here
      I disagree, the policies you propose offend against liberty of contract and
      freedom of association. Why not educational and childcare ::vouchers::, which
      would enable more choice, better outcomes, AND more consumer freedom than state
      provided schools and daycare. Instead of policy solutions that trample on
      important freedoms, I think that states should promote social justice within
      the limits of personal freedom. This doesn’t mean that I think property rights
      are absolute or that taxes are never permissible, I just think that negative
      rights have much more moral weight than positive entitlements.

       

      All
      that said, I also believe in a basic income and care about the worst off
      members of society. As I said in the post, progressives don’t have a monopoly
      on caring about social justice.

       

      I look forward to grappling with your argument more on this blog, because THIS is the conversation that libertarians and progressives (like the two of us)
      should be having. Let’s start from where we agree, and then talk about whether
      and when it’s permissible to violate negative liberty to promote social
      justice.  

      • http://twitter.com/CoreyRobin corey robin

         Hi Jessica. Thanks for your response.

        First, a correction, which I should have made in my original comment but it didn’t seem relevant at the time. I actually am very careful throughout my post to qualify my claims re libertarians with descriptors like “most” and “many.”  You’ll see, in fact, there’s a “most” just before the line you quote from me in graf 5 of your comment, which you left out. I’ve been reading you guys here, off and on, for a while, so I’m aware that in the libertarian house there are many mansions (albeit some bigger than others). And if you read me carefully — I realize this is giving close reading a bad name! — you’ll see that the one time that I don’t use that qualifier is when I talk about the refusal of libertarians — and here I think it really is almost universal — to identify the coercion of the workplace. 

        Which brings me to my second point.  The workplace, especially in the US as compared with other capitalist democracies, is an extraordinarily coercive institution. Outside the prison and the military, I can’t think of a more coercive institution that has as much of a hold over the everyday life of most citizens — that “has as much of a hold over the everyday life of most citizens” is a critical qualification — as the workplace.  Yet, I almost never hear libertarians talk about this.  This is why I’m skeptical about the libertarian self-identification as a philosophy of freedom. At least in the US.  If you truly cared about freedom — again, I mean this in the strictly negative liberty sense — you would make the workplace a primary target of your inquiries. (This is why anarchists who really do care about freedom are as much concerned about the workplace as they are about the state.)

        Even in your comment above you make two moves that I think are revealing. When you summarize my position re Sanchez you write the following:

        “you said that Sanchez’s liberty was limited by the fact that the costs
        of leaving a coercive workplace were higher without some kind of a
        social safety net (what you call the ‘material conditions that would
        free one of the cost of quitting’.) Libertarians dispute that the
        workplace is coercive because you can quit. Insofar as you think that
        ‘the absence of coercion’ in the work place not only requires a right to
        quit but also requires the public provision of ‘material conditions’
        this is no longer ‘plain old coercion of the negative liberty type’”

        The first thing to say about this paragraph is that I write in my post (and reiterate a similar point in my comment) that Sanchez’s liberty in the workplace is first and foremost limited by the coercive power of his employer, who (he fears), will tell him what to say and write on penalty of being fired.  *That* is the centerpiece of the coercion, not the ability or inability to quit (though that certainly adds to it.)  But you — and I don’t fault you for this; many libertarians do the same — just fly right by that point, as if it were never made. 

        You then proceed  to the second point: the coercion is not coercion because employees can quit.  As I said at the end of my comment, in response to someone else in this thread who made it, I don’t really understand this point at all.  Men and women exit repressive tyrannies all the time, sometimes by surreptitious flight and sometimes through an open door (as I point out in my comment, the high tide of Jewish emigration from Tsarist Russia occurred at a moment of intense pogroms and tightening of anti-Semitic restrictions). In the latter case, I fail to see how the open door changes the fact that there is coercion there.  I agree that it mitigates its reach — which is something I make a point of saying in my post — but it doesn’t mitigate the fact of it.  Or think of a women in an abusive marriage: she can get out of the marriage, sure, but it doesn’t change the coercion she experiences while she’s in it.  So the point re exit is, well, moot to me.

        Lastly, you say that I want to make the material conditions of workers more beneficial so that exit can be a real option (and you mention UBI, which I also support, though I’m skeptical we have the necessary political culture for it here). That’s true. But unions are about more than that.  I know you disagree with this point; I’m not asking for your agreement. My point is that the benefit of unions is that one of the key things they focus on — indeed, the reason they came into being (wages were never as important to workers as controlling the autocracy of the boss), was to limit the coercive power of their employers.  Again, not asking for your assent here, just trying to make the point that where libertarians seem to focus a lot on what happens outside the workplace — even libertarians with bleeding hearts — leftists like myself focus a lot on the coercion that happens inside the workplace. That’s something we don’t believe can be dealt with purely by guaranteed incomes and other public policies (setting aside whether those policies should be more market- and voucher-based or not; that to me is a secondary issue).

        Moreover, we don’t think any libertarian scheme — bleeding heart or (more commonly) stone cold — can deal with it. B/c it would require impinging on other rights: the rights of property. Which it’s clear you guys are very nervous about interfering with.  And we’re not.

      • http://twitter.com/CoreyRobin corey robin

         I ran out of space (though I probably went on too long).  I’m not trying to get into a whole debate about unions: I have zero illusions I could ever persuade of their utility. They are certainly imperfect institutions that often fail to fulfill their mission (though I would argue that in the last thirty years or so that’s because they’ve been beaten back and weakened, not strengthened. Again, not a worthwhile argument to have here.) But I come at these questions from a union background, and in the same way that Susan Okin asked how would Nozick’s theory look if women were taking into account, I often ask how libertarian theories look if workers — and again, the experience of workplace coercion is absolutely central (in almost surveys that are done of workers, having more control or autonomy on the job, and less surveillance and supervision, comes up as the number one demand) to that question for me. I don’t come at this from a theory of social justice. I start from the question of liberty, actually, and while I’m ecumenical about how one defines liberty (on even the strictest negative liberty account, as I’ve said, the workplace looks really bad), I try to see how the theory looks in the workplace. And little in the bleeding heart corpus leads me to believe that its theory can handle the everyday oppressiveness of a working person’s life. Being able to quit one coercive workplace only to go to another — remember, we’re talking about a whole swath of jobs that look nothing like the halls of an Ivy League university (though if you were to ask the janitors and secretaries at that university, you might get a sense of what we’re talking about) — doesn’t seem like liberty to me. Being able to exercise some of the rights we have against the state (to privacy, to speech, to association) does. At their best, unions are about that. Even at their worst, they do a better job of it than non-union workplaces.

        • Jessica Flanigan

          Corey, 
          I liked this response a lot, and I think you are right to point out that libertarians should be more attentive to all kinds of coercion, not just the state. You are also right to point out that many of the goods that libertarians tout as associated with entrepreneurship and the exercise of economic liberty (self-authorship, control over one’s workplace) can also be plausibly counted as goods of cooperative working arrangements. Insofar as unionization is a kind of free association I’m all for it, but my concern is that unions can be coercive too, in troubling ways, and that the state or a union shouldn’t restrict employers and non-union member’s freedom of contract or other economic freedoms.  All this will need to wait for another post, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciate this comment because these are the conversations that we (lefty-libertarians and liberal-egalitarians) ::should:: be having. In particular, you pose a philosophically interesting position about workplace coercion that I think deserves more attention. Next week I’ll do my best to write a post that addresses this view, though my fellow BHL blogger Matt Zwolinski has done work on this topic that far surpasses whatever I could cover in a post. All the same, thanks for putting this view on the table and starting the conversation! 

          • Petrarchus

            Jessica writes “the state or a union shouldn’t restrict employers and non-union member’s freedom of contract.” 

            This sounds nice and reasonable, but in reality, it just doesn’t work. If you let people fully “opt-out” of unions, unions collapse. Human nature is crooked, and people can’t resist the short-term goods (opt-out of union = additional $$$ TODAY). So the majority opts out, and the union loses its bargaining power and becomes more financially burdensome on those who remain. And then all the workers are right back where they started from in terms of their pay and benefits.

            People need to be protected from their irrationality. As J.D. Trout argues, it’s actually patronizing to make things like payday loans and union opt-outs legal (“Oh, you cute little human! You’re free and rational aren’t you? Yes yes yes. You’ll have no problem resisting this temptation, will you? You won’t use the money to buy extra cigarettes, will you? No no no!”). Also, if you’ve ever worked for a union and depended on it for continued healthcare and fair pay, you’ll be more open to the idea that compulsory dues are a small amount of liberty to give up for a very meaningful amount of utility / welfare. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

            Yes, this is a very important topic, and one to discuss further at another time.  Not only is important that government protect our right to work where unionization is not “a kind of free association,” but also to allow our wages to make us “original aquisitors” of private property under Lockean philosophy (which is the ultimate challenge to patriarchal inertia). 

        • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

          Corey,
          Employers who abuse their workers with arbitrary or stupid work rules must have an alienated and unhappy workforce. Unhappy workers are unproductive workers, and their employers must surely be at a competitive disadvantage relative to competitors with an enthusiastic and more productive workforce. My question: why don’t you and/or the many people who agree with you form corporations to compete with the nasty, coercive ones? You will not only get filthy rich, but you will do society a great favor by providing humane, nurturing workplaces where everyone is one big happy family.

          If you and those who agree with you lack capital, well, there are union pensions funds with hundreds of billions of dollars in them. Surely they can provide the needed investment, as well as socially progressive billionarires like George Soros, the Kennedys, Rockefellers, etc. Besides, I don’t think that the Google boys, Steve Jobs and many others started out with a great deal of capital available to them–but of course they had a great idea with which to attract investors–BUT SO DO YOU!!

          I guess my experience in business has been a little different than yors. A couple of decades ago I was general counsel to a major dental implant company that produced its products in S. California. Our titanium alloy implants and related products were made on very expensive, sophisticated machines run by computer programs. But someone had to actually operate and monitor the machine or very bad and expensive things could happen. The folks who ran our machines were skilled machinists–most without college degrees. We had a very hard time finding and retaining these guys (they were indeed almost all males).

          They were non-union, but with a little bit of overtome, which was certainly available to them, they could easily make six figures, with health insurance and other benfits. We would have been CRAZY to do anything to piss these guys off, as they were incredibly valuable workers and very hard to replace. We didn’t own thm, they owned us. 

          Even workers far less essential were  valued, because they all played a role in the success of the enterprise. I had a legal secretary/administrator/paralegal  who I shared with the CEO. There are plenty of persons with these skills in the marketplace. But, mine knew my preferences, my style, the way I liked things organized, our standard operating procedures, the other members of management with whom I interacted, etc. I would have been INSANE to abuse her or piss her off over some trivial thing, because even if I could hire an equally competent replacement it would take me much effort and many months to train them, and their personallity might prove a poor fit with me and the CEO.

          • Haytham Yaghi

            Mark, I agree with everything you said, but at the same time it seems a little hypothetical. I also agree with the statement that protecting negative freedoms doesn’t necessarily provide choice. You gave a few examples and I’ve heard about a few others but they still seem to be the exception rather than the norm (both throughout history and geography). I can’t think of any post industrial country who managed to offer better workplace conditions to its citizens without regulations. Can you think of any?

            Maybe it is because raising capital to start business is hard along with many other barriers of entry. And I’m aware that libertarians want to drop these barriers, but it seems that as long as that second goal hasn’t been achieved, there might be a need for protectionist measures.

          • theorlonater

            You know, it could be the case that your proposed “protectionist measures” could harm others, or even harm the people your intending to help.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Haytham,
            All libertarians believe that fraud should be legally prohibited, so that employers cannot deceive their workers (e.g. “hey, man, there has never been an accident in this workplace”). And, all libertarians believe that contracts should be legally enforceable, so that an employer cannot violate any agreement it has with its workers. Beyond this, government interventions, whether favoring employers or employees, are in my view morally impermissible because they interfere with the right of agents to conclude mutually advantageous arrangements. This policy does not exclude unions per se, but only laws that force workers to involuntarily pay union dues or which precude individuals from representing themselves in dealing with their employer. The fact that no modern nation has adopted libertarianism does not prove that this doctrine is wrong, just that it is unpopular. 

            Having said this, I agrere with “theorlonater” that workplace regulations are counterproductive for the welfare of workers. Such regulations raise the cost of hiring a worker, and when you raise the price of a commodity people buy less of it, i.e. employers hire fewer workers.   

    • theorlonater

      It may certainly well be the case that, for instance, there have been employers who have engaged in certain employment practices that many of us would view as reprehensible (and I and probably most other libertarians do not think that telling employees that they can’t go on bathroom breaks is absolutely wonderful), however, every person’s standards of reprehensibility is different, and as a society, that standard of “fairness” or “justice” that results from our political process is ultimately going to be arbitrary. 

      For example, a polity may be able to succeed in passing a law stating that it’s illegal for an employer to deny its employees any bathroom break, but, as it is very well the case, most people who comment on and think about  justice think that there are more things that employers should provide employees in order bring about a more “just” or “fair” environment. In fact, the other day my philosophy professor and I  got into a conversation about the working conditions of Amazon warehouses, or modern day warehouses for that matter (one of which he worked for), and how they were unjust (he didn’t use that term, but that’s what he presumably meant). They didn’t provide healthcare or any other benefits for that matter, the physical environment is rather grueling due to the type of work that one needs to do while employed there, and so forth.

      Now, my question to modern day liberals, social democrats, and progressives, presumably such as yourself, at least in this particular topic concerning employment conditions, is when does it end? When do you finally stop, in our instance,  forcing employers to provide certain things? By what conditions do you create a perfectly “just” working environment?

  • http://twitter.com/CoreyRobin corey robin

    Sorry, forgot to provide the link I mentioned in my comment. Also, I didn’t get much into Hayek’s definition of actual coercion b/c it’s actually much broader, I suspect, then anything you guys would accept here (basically, being made the tool of another, which would of course mean that almost every worker is coerced). Anyway, here’s the link (it’s a piece from the Boston Globe, so not academic): http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=02/10/01/0134653

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

      Excellent article. It’s long been my view that if you care at all about humane work conditions and the general welfare of the working classes, you have a choice. Strong unions backed by laws that explicitly give them some power, or direct government regulation. Take your pick.

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  • Petrarchus

    Jessica writes, “In practice, it looks like direct governmental intervention and union support no longer works to the benefit of society’s worst off.” 
    This is true, but it is a very incomplete view of the situation. If there were no unions (and you can’t have unions if dues aren’t compulsory for all workers) and no minimum wage laws and no child labor laws and no immigration restrictions and no tariffs and no licensing requirements (etc.), people at the very bottom of the income scale would be better off. Rather than being unemployed, people at the very bottom would be employed at slave wages doing jobs that endanger their health (“Woodja lik’ yer chimney swept, Mista?”). 

    However, in this libertarian paradise, a lot of people – at least the next 20% of the income distribution, and probably more like the next 80% – would be a hell of a lot worse off than they currently are. The capitalists in the top 1% would clean up and buy more G6s. (It’s their just deserts, being such awesomely productive über-geniuses, right?) 

    So: I object to “Rawlsekianism” and “liberaltarianism” for the same reason that I object to Rawls’ original theory: these views are all myopically focused on the plight of the very worst off. Maybe the system that would be best for the worst off would be terrible for the vast majority. I believe that the system that would in fact be best for the vast majority is Scandinavian-style social democracy. It taps into the productive power of capitalism, but it spreads the wealth. It’s also not too bad for the people at the bottom, but I wouldn’t put all that much weight on that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/krishan.bhattacharya Krishan Bhattacharya

    COMMENCE RAMBLING ESSAY:

    I would like to know what the general stance of BHL is on the Positive vs. Negative liberty question. Are BHLs libertarians who want to add some Positive liberties to the standard Negative liberty portfolio of Libertarianism? Libertarians seem overwhelmingly concerned with preventing coercion from the state. Radley Balko’s critique of law enforcement in America is my favorite example. 

    I’ve generally had trouble making heads or tails of the Positive vs. Negative liberty distinction, and how it applies to the political spectrum. It seems generally that the Libertarianism is more concerned with the Negative, and Liberalism with the Positive. Conservatism takes whatever position that maintains freedom for the few, servitude for the rest, and concedes whatever drives for liberty that it can’t fight.

    Most of the time Negative liberties are obvious and easily defined. Here in the US, I have protection from enslavement by the state (unless I go to prison in Arizona), protection from roving bandits etc. These are negative liberties in the sense that I am free from obstacles to my own conscious actions.

    But the only reason I want to be free from coercion in the first place because coercion prevents my from fully enjoying my positive liberties. These liberties are ones in which I achieve what I want, or build ladders to greater achievement, moving myself, my friends and family etc. toward greater states of happiness. I speak of achievement as broadly as possible: attaining, in whatever manner, that which improves my conscious well-being. This is, as far as I can tell, the only reasonable goal that anyone could possible have. Every goal we have, it seems me, can be placed under this umbrella of aiming for well-being. When healthy, sane people behave as if they are aiming for misery, it is generally because they are misguided about how happiness can be attained. Thus medieval pilgrims (and some modern Shia muslims) used to flog themselves bloody, thinking that suffering in the here and now would guarantee happiness in the hereafter. They were aiming for happiness, but missed badly because their mistaken beliefs acted like a flawed prism, distorting their vision and misguiding their behavioral arrows.

    Positive liberties are what people are really after, it seems to me. They seem much harder to define, and they seem to emerge out of complex social interactions that no political theory can capture. Technology is a perfect example of this. The printing press radically altered the possibilities for Positive liberty. What emerged were not just new opportunities for free expression, but whole dimensions of conversation that were inconcievable beforehand. The value and complexity of the world’s literature exploded. New ideas swept across Europe. Ditto Tahrir square. Fuelled by technology, it was probably inconcievable until it actually happened. Positive liberties are hard to define precisely because they exist at the limit of the known, where new human knowledge can expand the territory of the possible, but only when areas of dark ignorance are illumated. New modes of communication and cooperation can emerge that are inconceivable before they arise. These can in turn allow people to attain new states of well-being, and attain them more easily.

    But while no one knows where the next Positive liberty will arise, it seems that only the Left has ever been concerned with striving for it as a goal in and of itself. Why is this? Conservatism has never been concerned with charting out new territories of human possibility. Does Libertarianism want to do this? I find it hard to imagine a Libertarian revolution.

    • good_in_theory

      I’m no Libertarian, but I believe the response here would be that by providing for negative liberty, positive liberty is a product of the spontaneously emergent order of voluntary interactions.  Technology and so on will arise out of private contracting and exchange.

  • Damien S.

    “In practice, it looks like direct governmental intervention and union
    support no longer works to the benefit of society’s worst off”

    Well, after decades of work to sabotage or curb governmental interventions, and to cause government interventions that cripple the power of unions, such that the main ones left are those belonging to public employees rather than grape-pickers, yeah.  This is not an argument against unions, this is an argument against letting plutocrats write the rules.

    Of course, when government was weak, employers just hired their own thugs to break strikes…

  • Haytham Yaghi

    This post has brought up a lot of interesting debates in terms of workplace coercion, the state of workers if regulations were removed and so on… I want to ask a question that may sound crude, but I’m interested in hearing what libertarians think of it:

    In many emerging economies, there are very little protections, to the environment to workers and so on… Take China or India or any country with sweatshops, poor worker conditions and high pollution. What would libertarians (and specifically libertarians from developed countries where such protectionist regulation is taken for granted) think of that and would they consider living in such countries?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

      Yes, we do take our protectionism of worker rights for granted in the U.S., and no I would not like to be a worker under any other legal system, as imperfect as our system is right now. 

      The U.S. has set down some very unique legal concepts regarding property rights in human labor, mainly because of our roots in slavery (and in Lockean philosophy), and then thanks to the women’s rights movement riding on the coattails of abolitionism … and better defining post Civil War rights (that were initially intended for former slaves). 

      Unfortunately, lots of U.S. companies flee to foreign countries to avoid the cost and hassle of complying with our protectionism of worker rights.

      • Haytham Yaghi

        Rick, I feel you’re either being sarcastic, or you’re not really a libertarian, I can’t really tell which :D 

        What I mean is that from the libertarians I talk to, they seem to be against environmental and worker protectionism.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

          I consider myself to be a Lockean or geo -libertarian, with an emphasis on both Locke’s respect for “the commons” (in which “Nature’s God” holds property rights), and also a property right in one’s labor (which means that wages can sometimes be one’s personal property, not income, so that’s mostly what I meant by worker protectionism).

          Anyway, from the real “father of libertarianism,” here’s Locke’s famous quote (which incidentally caused the framers of the Constitution to create two classes of taxation, direct and indirect): 

          “Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.”

        • http://teapartiers.blogspot.com brucepmajors

          The only way to improve working conditions is to increase the marginal productivity of labor. The only way to do that is to accumulate capital. To do that you have to stop government theft of income and savings.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

      There was a discussion of this very topic early on in the life of the blog. I think somewhere back last March or April. You should be able to find it in the archives.

      • Haytham Yaghi

        Rod, would you happen to remember a few keywords I can search for? I tried searching the archives briefly but I couldn’t find it. Thanks!

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

          “sweatshops” worked for me. There were several discussions and it turns out the most targeted was in November.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=563776221 Dillon Williams

    “people think they’re scoring some kind of gotcha point when they’re actually exposing the silliness of their own caricature.” 

    Objectivists are not heartless people, you clearly do not understand incentives- an Objectivist in a position to easily save a stranger is likely to rescue someone who will feel greatly indebted and likely want to return the favor in some way, putting the Objectivist in a better position than before. 
    Don’t make petty swipes at a philosophy standing on clearer and more just premises than your presumptuous ones.  Don’t hide behind compassion to be ignorant.  Objectivists understand it is the productive who move the world forward and to maximize their output we should give them their due.  Study Austrian Economics. 

  • MengTzu

    Vouchers are not going to fix our educational system.  Proponents of vouchers have had a friendly lege in Texas for decades, and all that those decades of pro-voucher polices have done to Texas education is make it generally deplorable. 

    If you want a choice-based education system then don’t look to vouchers; look to Japan.  Fund education heavily, make students compete for placement in middle and secondary schools, allow secondary schools to set rates, and provide full scholarships to those who qualify for high-tier schooling but lack the resources to afford it.  And get used to the idea of large-scale boarding school education, because the only way Japan avoids that while also have a robust public/private competitive education system is by being small, which the US certainly isn’t. 

    I personally don’t think this approach will fix the problems with education in the US given how privatization of government programs here seems to inevitably reinforce class and racial segregation, thereby strengthening the very failings such reforms reputedly hope to correct.  If, however, your goal isn’t the best education system, but rather the best choice-based one, then Japan’s model is your best bet.  Frankly, I think the Finnish model would work better in the US, but that would require 1) reducing school-boards to an advisory/community out-reach role, 2) integrating all levels of public education into a single, federal system, 3) funding education at a far higher rate than we currently do, 4) requiring all new teachers to have a masters degree in the subject they plan to teach, 5) paying those teachers a salary commensurate to that of other, equally educated professionals, 6) rebuilding the system around providing the same high-quality education to all students, instead of our current model of winnowing out the best students to focus the majority of our resources on, winnowing out the worst students to push into under-funded special ed programs or juvenile hall, and stuffing the wide middle into unmanageable, over-crowded, test-focused, classrooms, 7) teach subjects, not tests, and abandon our obsession with diagnostic standardized testing, 8) have the entire program overseen by responsible political leaders unwilling to treat the system as a chit in some political game.  This will never happen, of course, for obvious reasons.

    • theorlonater


      3) funding education at a far higher rate than we currently do”

      Have you seen this graph? http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/chart-of-the-day-federal-ed-spending/
      By the way, when do you stop funding education? Do you not believe that diminishing returns exists for education as well? How much education do you believe is necessary for a growing economy? I know some economists that think education doesn’t matter much for a growing economy, what makes you so sure that you think it’s the opposite?

      “4) requiring all new teachers to have a masters degree in the subject they plan to teach ”

      “6) All of our teachers in U.S. K-12 education are credentialed, most of them have masters degrees, albeit much of them are in “education.” Either way, guess who requires them to acquire education degrees before they teach?

      rebuilding the system around providing the same high-quality education to all students, instead of our current model of winnowing out the best students to focus the majority of our resources on, winnowing out the worst students to push into under-funded special ed programs or juvenile hall, and stuffing the wide middle into unmanageable, over-crowded, test-focused, classrooms,”

      I do not disagree with you, but the market is probably the best way to achieve this egalitarian result.

      • Damien S.

        There’s a big difference between a master’s in education, and a master’s in a normal subject.  You mention the former, but the latter was suggested, and is required by Finland.  E.g. a math teacher would have a MS — and probably a BS or equivalent — in math, not math education.  History teachers would have a full master’s in history, etc.

        “the market is probably the best way to achieve this egalitarian result.”  Why?  Since when are markets known for egalitarian results?  And Finland provides a highly egalitarian system via a fully public system; what’s your equivalent existence proof for markets providing such an egalitarian system? Your assertion seems based on faith, not evidence.

        • theorlonater


          There’s a big difference between a master’s in education, and a master’s in a normal subject.  You mention the former, but the latter was suggested, and is required by Finland.  E.g. a math teacher would have a MS — and probably a BS or equivalent — in math, not math education.  History teachers would have a full master’s in history, etc.”

          I know that there’s a difference between a Master’s in Education and a Master’s in Mathematics, it’s rather obvious. Either way, at least in the U.S., which institution is the one that requires most of its employees to acquire Master’s Degrees in Education in order to attain employment as a teacher in a public school? Which institution actually incentivizes potential teachers to get Master’s Degrees in Education by means of subsidies and raises to their income regardless of productivity?

          “‘the market is probably the best way to achieve this egalitarian result.’  Why?  Since when are markets known for egalitarian results?  And Finland provides a highly egalitarian system via a fully public system; what’s your equivalent existence proof for markets providing such an egalitarian system? Your assertion seems based on faith, not evidence.”

          Faith? Hardly. I think that a free market in education will provide egalitarian benefits much in the way a free market in food, clothing, electronics, cars, sunglasses, etc. provide egalitarian benefits to society.  Not egalitarian in the sense that everyone would be absolutely equal in intelligence, consumption, and overall economic well being, but in the sense that it would provide the opportunity to get all those things that one wants, in our example, in education. You certainly don’t notice people in the first world starving to death. You certainly don’t notice many poor families in this world lacking clothing.You certainly don’t notice them not being able to afford sunglasses. Most poor families in the first manage to own their own cars, etc. 

          • Damien S.

            US governments (many of them, state and local) require degrees (I’ll grant they require education degrees for argument; I don’t know if that’s true.)  The Finnish government requires subject degrees.  This is not a stunning indictment of government in general.

            “You certainly don’t notice people in the first world starving to death.”

            Dude.  That’s because the First World has food stamps, welfare, and the dole.  This is like the single worst example you could have chosen.

            Hand-me-down clothing is cheap.  Clothing in the First World in general is possibly unsustainably cheap due to cheap global labor.  Basic sunglasses are trivially cheap.  And lots of poor families *don’t* own cars.  Or have good housing.  None of this compares to Finnish government schools apparently giving the same high quality education to recent non-European immigrants as to Finnish elites.

          • theorlonater

            Because of food stamps, many don’t own their own cars? That’s laughable. Have you ever read anything from Michael Cox’s Myth’s of Rich and Poor, they have data on the subject and it doesn’t seem to accord with your worldview. I’ll admit that it’s U.S.-focused, but since the U.S. has perhaps the least extravagant welfare state, it furthers my point that markets are what make poorer people well off, not redistribution. By the way, most of your favored redistribution policies that affect poor people have kept them in mired in their low-income levels, so it does not make them much better off in the long run had they not used those programs.

          • Damien S.

            That would be laughable.  Good thing I didn’t say it.  Read with more care.

            I didn’t say food stamps were ideal; poverty trap  effects are well known.  I implied they keep people from starving, which is not inconsistent; “much better off in the long run” is inapplicable if you’d have starved to death in the short run.  What I said outright was that first would countries have government programs to give food to people to keep them from starving to death, so using the lack of such people in such countries as a triumph of capitalism is rather laughable.

          • theorlonater

            The way most poverty programs are run nowadays, I wouldn’t exactly say that they are only there to keep people starving to death. Either way, a question for you, would you honestly find it plausible that some people would starve to death in the absence of those programs? Are people so paralyzed and helpless that they can’t think of ANY (I’m not yelling at you, I just can’t italicize) means to avoid starving to death, at least in first world countries? I don’t find it plausible, especially in a country like the U.S. where only 6% of people’s per-capita income is spent on food. If there were people on the brink of starvation, I think that charity and other voluntary contributions would suffice to deter almost all instances of this brinks of starvation, or whatnot. 

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