Social Justice, Libertarianism

Stoney hearted libertarianism or bleeding heart libertarianism?

I recently had a discussion with another libertarian philosopher who thought “bleeding heart libertarianism” made no more sense then “stoney hearted libertarianism.” Needless to say, I’m not convinced. The issue is whether or not all libertarians are committed to the same thing; if they are, the modifiers are unimportant. Of course, no one thinks all libertarians must agree about everything. Even the regular contributors to BHL disagree amongst ourselves about a variety of issues. The question is this: is there some core belief of bleeding heart libertarianism that unites all BHLs and which other libertarians reject (but that does not undermine our being libertarians)? I frankly remain unsure but offer the following for your consideration. (Consider this an attempt to motivate BHL and a statement of gratitude that BHL is now a thing.)

There are different moral groundings of libertarianism. BHLs duplicate—and perhaps add to—the ways others defend libertarianism. There are natural rights libertarians, eudaimonist libertarians, consequentialist libertarians, public reason libertarians and more. If there is some core belief that unifies these, its likely about the way society should be set up. Indeed, I think BHLs agree with (all?) other libertarians about the basics of that. I think what unifies BHLs and distinguishes us from other libertarians is a view about the sorts of considerations—including facts on the ground, as it were—that are thought relevant when determining how a society should be set up.

A little autobiographical commentary might help here. As a philosophy grad student (way back when), I probably disagreed with as much said at libertarian conferences and seminars as I did in my home department (but appreciated the very different sorts of discussions that emerged). To make that a bit more concrete, I had the impression that most participants (faculty and students) at such gatherings were registered as, or voted for, Republicans (if they voted at all). By contrast, I grew up in what I thought of (and still think of) as a “middle-middle class” household of Democrats and while I never really identified as a Democrat, I certainly never identified as a Republican. (I vote; I enjoy voting; I may vote slightly more for Democrats than for Republicans, but I never vote party line, sometimes vote for third party candidates, never care if I vote for someone for every open office, and frequently vote strategically rather than for a candidate I actually like—not that there are many of those.) The world we live in always struck me as unfair and I never thought the U.S. was a society of equal opportunity (yes, I think equal opportunity, properly defined, is required for fairness and justice). I didn’t see Republicans even pretending to offer anything to make the world fairer; Democrats did (at least pretend to). The impression I got at libertarian gatherings when I was a graduate student was that many of the participants thought the world was fair and that there was equal opportunity in the U.S. There seemed to be little recognition, for example, that minorities and women were often treated unfairly and that they had fewer opportunities (this has since changed, but not completely).

So, here’s the thing. While I am not certain there is something distinctive to bleeding heart libertarianism (such that it is different from other versions of libertarianism), I think there is—because I think there is something distinctive of bleeding heart libertarians. All of us care about the plight of the less fortunate. As I put it a couple of years ago, BHL is “a family of libertarian (and hence liberal) views that also share a deep concern to prevent suffering.” This does not mean that we think socialism is a move forward or that more welfare policies are needed. It means only that we care about the less fortunate and think the world should be set up in a way that the least well off (whomever they would be) are as well off as possible. (Yes, that’s Rawls, but it’s at least as important that we all endorse the free market and are eager to consider what empirical economic science—as well as economic theory—has to teach us.)

Some further autobiography. It may be that I would have written in defense of libertarianism no matter how good the world was. But I also know this about myself: if our society was set up in such a way that the only government transfers were from those with much to those with little or nothing, I would not be nearly as motivated to oppose it. It’s not exactly that I think government transfer programs of any sort are good; it’s rather that some—those that help individuals in poverty or victims of abuse—simply do not bother me (unless they make things worse). What bothers me are government programs that help those already well off—like bailing out big banks, paying to build sports stadiums, starting wars so weapons can be bought from big companies and/or so big oil companies can continue to get their raw product, building roads to stores instead of letting them bare the costs, and the list goes on (see here). But I can’t get motivated to oppose (unless the intent is somehow malicious or the program demonstrably self-defeating) giving those in poverty food stamps to feed young children, setting up financial incentives for people to foster or adopt children that were previously abused by their birth parents, or having programs to help badly off people that have been harmed but can’t get compensation from the criminal that caused the harm. I’ve met many people who claim to be libertarians who do—or at least seem to—oppose such things. Indeed, people who claim to oppose them *as* libertarians. Perhaps that is changing (I think it is). If so, great; that would mean there are fewer stoney-hearted libertarians. But both because I think there are still SHLs out there and, perhaps as importantly, because I know there are lots of people that think all libertarians are SHLs, I think this blog—and others like it—have an important role to play. I think we are helping to change the conversation so that libertarians are coming to be seen as true heirs to classical liberals (and truly progressive).*

I should note—though I hope its obvious—that I would prefer a world where government programs of the sorts just mentioned (social welfare programs) were not necessary. A world where birth parents never abused children. A world where everyone could afford to pay for food for their children. But that isn’t this world. Indeed, I think there are systemic issues in our very non-libertarian world that make it such that those programs are needed. But the programs we have that help the well-off? Those are neither needed nor acceptable. Of course, they don’t appeal to any real libertarians, stoney hearted or otherwise.

*Note that I do not say “the true heirs.”

  • Sean II

    “There seemed to be little recognition, for example, that minorities and women were often treated unfairly and that they had fewer opportunities (this has since changed, but not completely).”

    Excuse me? In nearly any hiring or academic selection process you can name, it is a clear and powerful advantage to be a woman or a minority. This has been generally true for at least a decade, probably two.

    I’m curious what purpose it serves to pretend otherwise. What part of your autobiography teaches you that libertarianism (or even just life itself) can be made better by the denial of plain facts? And how do you know that what we gain by denying those facts (if anything) is worth what we lose? How do you know those facts won’t become important later? How will your recover them, if it becomes necessary?
    Oh, wait…I think I have my answer:

    ” I think we are helping to change the conversation so that libertarians are coming to be seen as true heirs to classical liberals (and truly progressive).*”

    Perhaps we shouldn’t trade what we are for how we’d like to be seen. And what we are (supposed to be) is the group who doesn’t play pretend with other people’s lives.

    • Libertymike

      “Perhaps we shouldn’t trade what we are for how we’d like to be seen.”
      The best line I’ve read or heard this week (and I do a fair amount of both listening and reading).

    • j r

      As for the present, in nearly any hiring or academic selection process you can name, it is a clear and powerful advantage to be a woman or a minority. This has been generally true for at least a decade, probably two.

      This is only true if you begin observing the process at the moment that the application is submitted. If you add up the sum total of advantages and disadvantages that individuals have when applying for schools and jobs, minorities certainly don’t have a clear and powerful advantage. For women it’s a bit more complicated.

      Also, it’s only true if you ignore the empirical evidence showing that resumes with a black-sounding name get significantly less interviews than identical resumes with non-ethnic names. And you’d also have to ignore the empirical evidence showing that white men with criminal records are as likely or more likely to get hired for low-wage employment than black men with no criminal record.

      • Libertymike

        What, pray tell, are black sounding names?

        • j r

          Watch a college football game.

          • Sean II

            You weren’t by any chance thinking of players like Tyroil Smoochie-Wallace or Shakiraquan T.G.I.F. Carter?

          • j r

            I’m just saying that Bisquiteen Triscuit’s resume may not get the same consideration as Bob Smith’s.

            Also, they need to do one for SWPL kids with names like Alistair Barnaby Maxwell and Tyler Quinn Lewis. I don’t know what sports SWPL parents let their kids play though.

          • Sean II

            They pretend to like soccer, of course, but that’s pretty clearly fake. The SWPL archive puts it perfectly: “#80 The Idea of Soccer”.

        • The Man Whose Head Expanded

          Names that are perceived as sounding black, likely due to their relative abundance in communities of persons of African descent in America?

          • Libertymike

            Like, Jim Brown?
            Lenny Moore?
            Walter Payton?
            Barry Sanders?
            Johnny Rodgers?
            Shannon Sharpe?
            Chuck Foreman?
            Jerry Rice?
            Bo Jackson?
            Cameron Newton?
            Russell Wilson?
            Ernest Byner?
            Floyd Little?
            Chris Carter?
            Randy Moss?
            Ray Lewis?

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            No, of course not all are obvious, which is the whole point. But to counter your list are all the LeShaws, LaDavions, JaMarcuses, and generally any name with a superfluous Le, La, Ja, or De in front of it. It marks the kid as probably coming from a single parent, or poorly educated black family.
            That is in itself no reason for discrimination, but it is more likely to happen with such a naming scheme.

          • Sean II

            “It marks the kid as probably coming from a single parent, or poorly educated black family…That is in itself no reason for discrimination…”

            Ah, but see…it’s as good a reason for discrimination as any, maybe better. Imagine three people who get turned down for a job:

            Candidate A is rejected because he stopped 6 credit hours short of a B.A. in Psychology

            Candidate B is rejected because he gave weird answers on the Hogan Pseudo-Science Personality Inventory.

            Candidate C is rejected because he grew up in a black neighborhood, in the home of an illiterate single mom, and you know, that sort of kid doesn’t usually turn out too well.

            For my money, the rationale behind rejecting A and B are much weaker than the rationale behind rejecting C. And yet we tolerate the first two rejections as just the way it goes with H.R. The third one we treat as a barbarous outrage against right-thinking and justice.

            It doesn’t make sense.

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            Are you seriously implying that everything else being equal, you would think worse of a job candidate from a ‘black neighborhood’ than one that failed to graduate from college or one who flubbed the behavioral assessment?

            That can’t be what you mean, is it?

          • Sean II

            Silly rabbit. If behavioral hiring assessments are pseudo-scientific bullshit (and they are), why should I care if anyone “flubbed” one? What does it mean to flub a test that doesn’t mean anything. Answer: nothing. It means nothing.

            If college is not really about acquiring knowledge (for most people, it’s not), then why should I care if someone is two classes short of the typical graduate’s condition of superbly well-rounded ignorance? Answer: I shouldn’t care.

            But if, on the other hand, someone lives in a bad news neighborhood, where no one stays who doesn’t have to, then I feel like I know a little about that person. The odds seem pretty good that, when it comes to marginal revenue product, he must be either schlemiel or schlemazel.

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            So that is what you mean. okay.
            I’ll just say I disagree with your blanket judgments regarding people who come from impoverished environments, and I think that such attitudes held by potential employers help perpetuate the cycles of poverty that affect those communities.

          • Sean II

            I’m not trying to play a trump on you or anything, but have you ever been an employer?

            It’s freakin’ hard. One of the hardest parts about it is trying to pick people. There is no good way. Information is scarce and extremely expensive. You grab at any little crumb you can find.

            I’d compare the experience with being asked to judge a beauty pageant blindfolded, based only on a series of personal statements where each contestant tells you how pretty they are in dull, cliche-ridden language that makes you wonder if every entrant just hired the same hacky ghost writer.

            No one likes the idea that two equal candidates should become unequal because…this one has a picture of himself drunk on Facebook and that one doesn’t,or this one used the desert spoon to shovel salad dressing at the pre-interview dinner, while the other one showed an impressive taste in wine.

            And yet this sort of shit happens all the time. Why should it be any worse to use race, class, or gender?

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            I understand that employment decisions are generally made with incomplete and far from perfect information. However, I disagree that this process is improved one bit through the utilization of crude stereotyping as a hiring heuristic.

            Pray tell, what reliable inferences do you make when you judge someone based upon their race, ethnicity, or social background? (inferences that you can’t already make from other portions of the hiring process)

            Do you think that this process is reliable to the point where it can somehow justify discrimination in the process of employment? Would you still agree if you were a member of the groups that you seem to find unfavorable?

          • Sean II

            “Pray tell, what reliable inferences do you make when you judge someone based upon their race, ethnicity, or social background? ”

            Fair question, deserves an answer. I’ll give you an example:

            Let’s say we’re trying to fill a delicate customer service position, one that requires its occupant to take a ton of shit and respond with nothing but kindness.

            Let’s say we’re down to two applicants that are identical in nearly every way. Let’s say we hit them both with the standard “conflict question” (i.e., “Tell us about a time when you faced conflict in the workplace and how you resolved…).

            Let’s further assume that both candidates answer this question correctly (i.e., pretend to have no idea what interpersonal conflict is, because gosh, I just get along with everyone blah, blah, blah…). And let’s assume we both know this simply means they are well-briefed in the clumsy traps beneath our bullshit hiring process.

            Finally, let’s assume one candidate is Asian and the other Black. That’s the only difference left between them. That’s what we’re down to.

            I’m hiring the Asian. Why? Because of stereotypes. Because the consensus wisdom on Asians, backed up by a lifetime of casual observation, is that they don’t lose their temper getting dissed. I admit it’s not much to go on, but we have two candidates and only one spot. Someone has to lose.

            Now let me turn the question back on you: like my reasoning or hate it, do you really think it should be illegal?

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            Please tell me more about the relative temperaments of racial groups and how Blacks are liable to fly off the handle when placed under pressure.

            Is the Asian more or less cool and collected than the White? What about various sub-types of white and asians? Who would get the job if it came down to a Norwegian and a Korean? A Czech candidate vs a Chinese one? And what might we do if both of the candidates are white– in that case we have no decision criteria at all!

            And what might we do if we happened upon a candidate of mixed heritage? Do you quantify the ability of their constituent ethnic stereotypes to stay cool under pressure, and then assign a score based upon the proportion of each heritage?

            Its important to answer these questions if you intend to apply your stereotypes in a fair and rational manner.

          • Sean II

            I don’t really blame you. A lot of people can’t handle this kind of discussion.

            I used to be one of them too. I grew up same as you, being taught that it’s better to have my larynx removed than say things like I said in that last comment.

            I was socialized to fear the same taboos. How does it go again: “We are all clones made of wet clay. All groups are identical. Anytime groups are not identical, its 100% attributable to environment. All stereotypes are completely false and totally arbitrary, without a grain of truth to them. No cost is too great, if borne in the name of avoiding them. People who disagree with these conclusions are crazy, stupid, or evil.”

            When you’re in it, you’re in it…and it’s really hard to see what things might look like from beyond the force field of socially desirable belief.

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            There may be hope for me yet, Sean.

            For instance, this conversation has me believing that White Libertarians might not be the best people to hire for HR positions due to their tendency to assess individuals based on name and skin color, so maybe there really are profound differences between the races that should be taken into account in hiring.

          • Sean II

            “There may be hope for me yet…”

            Nah. I think you’re probably a lifer.

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            What a horrible fate, to forever be treating my peers as though they were individuals and not a confluence of racist stereotypes. The horror.

          • Sean II

            Don’t be so modest. With sanctimony like that, I’m sure you have no peers.

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            And I’m sure you have plenty of black friends, despite your informed understanding of them as an ill-tempered people.

          • Sean II

            “And I’m sure you have plenty of black friends.”

            Nope…but then neither do you.

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            Seeing as how this conversation has devolved to the point of “I’m rubber, you’re glue”, I’m going to declare that it has run its course!

          • Sean II

            Feel free to kid yourself on that point, but my last comment was indeed a substantive one.

            It matters quite a bit that racial identicalism is something people talk about without supporting in action. Usually we say of such things that they represent a falsified preference, and if the talk/action dichotomy goes on long enough, we just call it a lie.

            People like you and I don’t have black friends outside of work, or sometimes maybe for a few years around high school and college. We don’t. That goes much as well for liberals as for libertarians and conservatives. This is why just about any white person can get big laughs by saying”some of my best friends are…”. He doesn’t even have to finish the sentence, because everyone knows how it ends, and everyone understands that it’s funny because it’s never true.

            I submit this fact gives rise to an obligation: we should try to understand why. You think…what, we shouldn’t discuss it at all?

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            Nope, the segregation that exists within social networks and whatever it might be that makes it a continuing phenomenon is a perfectly fine thing to discuss and think about. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

          • Sean II

            Perhaps, then, you think it should only be discussed if the answer – “it’s all racism + legacy of racism” – is decided beforehand? The problem with which is, that feels like not really discussing it at all.

            Or maybe you think it’s okay to discuss provided simply that one possible answer – “groups are different, sometimes in important ways” – is completely ruled out and disallowed from the start? That’s a bit better, but still a lot like not really discussing things at all.

            So which is your position? Do we already know the right answer, so that any dissent is just a waste of time? Or are we to proceed under the stifling condition that one of the key possibilities cannot politely be mentioned?

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that I think all people are exactly the same in all regards, nor do I think that any study of differences among people is intellectual heresy. Sociologists, anthropologists, ethnographers and other social scientists produce lots of valuable work relating to how groups of people can differ in substantive ways.

            And no, I don’t think that everything should be reduced to racism or the effects of past racism– although I’d be very skeptical of any explanations that didn’t reference that as at least a part of the causal story for why communities are not more integrated in the United States.

            You seem intent on arguing with some straw man of political correctness.

            A few thoughts on where we seem to actually differ:
            I think it is irresponsible and destructive to transfer one’s beliefs about a group of people onto an individual who may be associated with that group. This is an ecological fallacy. Black Metal being most popular in Norway does not mean Jan is into Black Metal or that it is even likely that he is. In this case this is because Jan is a monk who would prefer for his church to not be on fire and might rightly take offense to the suggestion otherwise.

            Additionally, I think we should not hold our folk anthropology (the non-rigorous way in which we develop beliefs about groups) in very high regard, seeing as how it is highly susceptible to all sorts of biases,errors, and is generally drawn from small or non-representative samples.

            And we should also be very careful in assigning individuals to groups. Black, White, Asian, etc are not very useful labels for many of the purposes you seem to want to use them for, given that these labels point to an incredible diversity of history, culture, social status, etc. The physical characteristics of an individual tells you very little about them beyond how likely they are to be stopped and frisked by the NYPD.

            When you look at a member of a racial, ethic, national or other group they are involuntary members of and you make assumptions about who they are based on shoddily constructed folk anthropology, you insult the dignity and freedom of the individual you are interacting with. In the case of hiring, you do harm to the individual by creating a maldistribution of opportunity for them as an individual and for their community.

            You can argue that it is in the best interest of the company to engage in discriminatory hiring practices, but I’ve never seen evidence of that being the case in modern America.

          • Sean II

            1) “I think it is irresponsible and destructive to transfer one’s beliefs about a group of people onto an individual…”

            Problem with this: information is scarce and costly, and yet people must make decisions everyday, using such information as they have. What are you asking above is for people to place an infinite price on avoiding the ecological fallacy. That’s ridiculous. Such a rule could never be followed in real life.

            2) “And we should also be very careful in assigning individuals to groups. Black, White, Asian, etc are not very useful labels…”

            Completely false. Those labels are useful medically, genetically, sociologically, politically, culturally, historically,…just about any way you can think of, including casual conversation, where everyone seems to understand what they mean without difficulty. To deny this is pure romanticism.

            3) “Additionally, I think we should not hold our folk anthropology…”

            Who said anything about that. My chief concern is a beautifully measurable variable called IQ, which just so happens to correlate with a bunch of other things, like for example, impulse control. Although I grant you that it is interesting to see how data confirm folk wisdom on some points while often dramatically contradicting it on others.

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            I would say that the harm imposed on job candidates by interviewers committing the ecological fallacy (especially when it is based on false stereotypes) is greater than the benefits that the person doing the hiring is likely to attain by committing said fallacy. This is at least party because I deny that the potential employer is really improving their process at all by employing stereotypes as a part of the system. If you have evidence suggesting otherwise, I’d be happy to look at it.

            Well placed ellipses, there. I wish you had included the next few words “for the purposes you seem to want to use them for”. Kind of a crucial bit you left out there so you could respond to yet another PC strawman.

            3.) I’m not going to follow you down the Bad Science rabbit hole of IQ studies. Not worth my time.

          • Sean II

            “This…because I deny that the potential employer is really improving their process at all by employing stereotypes as a part of the system.”

            What? Have you heard nothing I said? The employer’s whole process consists of using stereotypes. People who went to college are smart, people convicted of crimes are dangerous, people who talk about disliking their last boss are likely to be troublesome, etc.

            They use such stereotypes because you can’t directly observe the person you hire, until you hire them. At this point, you’re just taking flight into a fantasy world where employers can spend as much time and money as it takes to, you know, really get to know each one of us as a person. Nonsense.

            2) & 3) Those aren’t responses, just evasions.

            Shall I take it that you’ve revised your answer on the question of whether this topic is fit for discussion. Because it sounds a lot like you’re just refusing to discuss it, at this point.

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            I was referring specifically to employing racial, ethnic, or gender stereotypes. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. The difference between “Blacks are ill-tempered” and “people who talk shit about their previous boss are likely insubordinate” should be clear even if they are both the result of inferences you make from limited information.

            This is because a criminal record is evidence of criminality, talking shit is evidence of insubordination, going to college is evidence of some base level of intellectual competence; but is being black sufficient evidence of being ill-tempered that it should be admitted into the hiring process? Past actions taken by the candidate at least partially determine the first three, giving their inferential value more weight. Your perception of black people determines the last one.

            Show me any evidence that using racial stereotypes in the hiring process produces better outcomes for employers, and we can continue this part of the discussion. I’m finding your repeated insistence that discriminatory hiring practices are equally valid as assumptions made based on education and past employment because they are both forms of inference to be very unconvincing.

          • Sean II

            Oh, so stereotypes are good until, arbitrarily, they aren’t.

            Why didn’t I see it before? Thus, for example…

            It’s okay to assume that all convicted people are actually guilty (never mind that many plead on advice of counsel). It’s okay to assume that convicted people will probably offend again (even though many won’t). It’s okay to assume that the laws they broke are just (even though many aren’t) and consistently enforced (again, not)…but it’s not okay to notice that asian men are dramatically underrepresented in every category of crime, especially violence.

            My friend, that sounds like something out of Lewis Carroll.

          • The Man Whose Head Expanded

            I have no idea where you’re getting that I believe anything in your post. Engaging in bad faith argumentation with a flippant racist is not a good usage of anyone’s time. Bye.

          • Sean II


          • Curious

            I have to chime in here and say that many stereotypes are indeed accurate. By “accurate” I mean that stereotypes of the below forms can be true, and are often true:

            People in group A are more likely to have attribute X than people in group B.

            Most people in group A have attribute X.

            Those two forms are common structures of stereotypes.

            TMWHE has it wrong when he cites the ecological fallacy. That’s real fallacy, but it doesn’t apply here. It’s a simple matter of probabilities. The question is whether choosing job candidate A is more likely to have a particular outcome than candidate B. There are lots of outcomes we could plug in that would generate affirmative answers for different combinations of racial/ethnic groups.

            Calling it folk anthropology doesn’t actually do anything. Facts are facts. I think the problem is that many people have been conditioned to think that stereotyping is ipso facto faulty and bad. It’s almost like the word stereotype describes a fallacy to some people. But in fact, many are accurate.

            The only question is whether they’re useful. In most hiring cases they won’t be. Why? Because you have access to much higher quality, finer-grained information than group membership, which is usually a low quality predictor compared to actual transcripts, interview, test scores, experience, recommendations, and so on.

            Some stereotypes that come to mind that seem quite accurate: If you want an original and self-driven thinker, you will often be disappointed in Chinese hires, especially those trained in China, so you would want to see evidence that the specific individual is the kind of thinker you seek. Chinese trained engineers and other professionals emerge from a system that stresses conformity and memorization — you’d be amazed at the wall you can run into when you ask them for an answer to a problem that can’t be looked up. (Obviously, there are exceptions, but the stereotype is accurate at some level of probability.) As has been documented in much research on the wage gap, women are less likely to be willing to work overtime. Also, women are much more likely than men to get pregnant, which leads them to leave their jobs for many months (a move that would otherwise be so weird and Andy Bernard-esque.)

            I don’t mean to trivialize these issues, or to say that we shouldn’t care about some of the broader justice issues here. But these are the facts on the ground that employers have to deal with.

      • Sean II

        1) You’ll have to supply that empirical evidence before I can respond to it.

        2) “If you add up the sum total of advantages and disadvantages that individuals have when applying for schools and jobs, minorities certainly don’t have a clear and powerful advantage”

        Ah, but this throws us back onto the big question: what are those background disadvantages, and where did they come from, and why are they so goddamn sticky.

        The old habit of saying: “They came entirely from racism, past and present”…that just doesn’t work anymore. The time has come for a more complicated answer.

        • Magus Janus

          and a commitment to reality has to involve recognizing reality even when we don’t like it. such as racial differences in IQ, almost certainly genetically based.

          • Sean II

            Sorry I missed this until now, and right you are.

            It’s not just a commitment to dealing with reality that obliges us to grapple with the IQ question.

            Equally important it is to remember that any serious pursuit of equality or social justice (as they like to say around here) requires us to face what may be the most important single cause on inequality in the world today.

            I really believe this in one of those issues which will lead the future to judge us harshly, when they find out how much scientific evidence we ignored, how long we clung to our played-out little excuses, how blatantly we put the safety of our public image ahead of the truth, how we feed those left side of the curve children a bunch of feel good “yes-you-can” bullshit instead of teaching them trades, etc.

          • Curious

            I agreed with you on the other thread that many stereotypes are accurate as an empirical reality, but I caution you against jumping on this here train too soon.

            Social science and psychology research are very young fields and have a long ways to go. There’s a lot we don’t know about intelligence, and clear genetic explanations for the IQ gaps have yet to expose themselves. Culture is at least as plausible as genes.

            I also think a matter-of-fact approach to IQ differences should come with a dose of empathy and goodwill. I don’t buy “social justice” as a survivable value, but there is no question that blacks and browns were brutally oppressed for a long time. It might not be reasonable to expect all gaps to dissolve a few decades after MLK.

          • Sean II

            You should direct those suggestions not to me, but to my opponents.

            I’m the one calling for an honest inquiry into the issue – where honest means, at a minimum, that we don’t harvest our conclusions first, and our evidence later (or never, if that’s what the conclusions require). I’m the one asking that a young science be allowed to grow up.

            They are the ones who shout and scream hysterically, demanding that the inquiry be closed forever, denouncing those who would keep it open, etc. They are the ones who moralize the debate. They are the ones who put curses on facts, who declare some thoughts sacred, others forbidden, etc.

            To put it in concrete terms: You don’t have to tell me to consider the “long shadow of Jim Crow” as a possible explanation for persistent group differences. I believed in just that theory for many years, and I still haven’t completely discarded it now.

            But look at my opponents. Do they show even the slightest indication of having considered any theory except the one they now defend with panicky shrieks and name-calling smears?

    • adrianratnapala

      As for the present, in nearly any hiring or academic selection process
      you can name, it is a clear and powerful advantage to be a woman or a
      minority. This has been generally true for at least a decade, probably

      Is this still true? It was my impression that that sort of reverse-discrimination was a real thing in the 1990s, but now society has grown out of it. At least that was my gut feeling in Britain and Australia. Perhaps America is just more neurotic about these issues? I’ve never lived there so I wouldn’t know.

      • Sean II

        No, no – it’s all alive and well here in the states. The tendency seems to come in three main forms:

        Extra Strength Race Obsession (actual quotas & targets, with vast gaps in the minimum skill level required from candidates of different groups): University Admissions, Public Sector Employment.

        Adult Dose Race Consciousness (race and gender automatically considered a positive when the candidate is not a white male): Medium to Large Corporations & Non-Profits, firms of any size with high public profile.

        Topical Race Awareness Cosmetic Cream (care taken to appear free of bias for fear of ruinous legal costs – i.e., reluctance to fire non-performing minority workers*/students, weirdly elaborate hiring/screening processes): Small Businesses, Private K-12 Schools.

        * About this last, I know an internist in private practice with a black female office manager who’s been embezzling from him for years. I asked why he didn’t fire her. He said: “Yeah, right. She’d love nothing more. She’s been a successful plaintiff in like four lawsuits outside of work. I’m probably supposed to be the big kahuna…but she’ll wait forever. I’m too smart for that!”

        • Libertymike

          With smarts like that, who needs dumb?
          Does your internist friend operate as a sole proprietor? Is he part of a partnership or an LLC comprised of other physicians?
          If he is a partner or a co-shareholder or a member of an LLC, he has a duty to report the black woman’s embezzlement to his partners, co-shareholders or members, particularly if he is the managing partner / president or Manager of the LLC.
          Really, based upon what your internist tells you, the black woman does not have a case. If he bellyaches about the cost of defending, ask him if he has balanced that against that which she has seen fit to steal.
          Discharging an Afro-American because she embezzles is a text book non-discriminatory, independent business basis for the action and therefore is check and mate to a frivolous “I was fired because I was black” lawsuit.

          • Sean II

            There’s no such thing as checkmate in this kind of law. There is no such thing as textbook non-discriminatory. There is no textbook. Just about anything can happen.

            Imagine you’re facing an EEOC suit, and your lawyer smilingly predicts a 90% of “victory” (itself a costly proposition in terms of time, money, stress, and reputation).

            Imagine also that he tells you it’s really hard to predict what a jury would do in the 10% scenario. Some come back with awards of $100,000, but…there was that one case recently where a jury gave $6,200,000 to a single plaintiff.

            Even lawyers know this much math: .1 x 6,200,000 = Hell no! If she ain’t stealing that much or more, why bother? Mankind are more disposed to suffer evils while evils are sufferable…and shit.

          • dalecarville

            “There’s no such thing as checkmate in this kind of law.There is no such thing as textbook non-discriminatory.”

            And there no internist friend with a black female office manager that freely embezzles his money, somehow, impossibly, beyond the reach of the law.

            I’ll be frank. You are lying. You’re about as bad as it gets on the internet. How many vicious”gut”-based assertions have you presented here, each an invitation to resentment and hatred, without a shred of evidence?

            Your thread paints a picture of parallel world where black privilege, scratch that, black supremacy, is the law of the land; it’s a white victim fantasyworld where, instead of wall street bankers and corporate CEOs, it’s blacks and women who are immune from prosecution, who have all the best jobs and tenured professorships; where minority office staff are freely permitted to drain company assets while their helpless employers cower in fear.

            Perhaps it’s Sean I who resides on earth and Sean II posts from some Earth II where possession of crack is a misdemeanor, Augusta is owned by the NAACP, and little black girls who get kidnapped swamp the news cycle. Where up is down and black really is white.

            More plausibly, you’re a Stormfront einsatzleiter or an evangelist for the Church of Satan.

            My screenshot of your performance here will hopefully be something I can share in a better future as an example of how bad right-wing reality distortion got before things turned around. Or else when I first noticed the spirit of eliminationism
            getting upvoted in an ostensibly humanitarian venue.

          • Sean II

            Nice speech. I sort of imagined it being read by a quavering Henry Fonda, Sam Waterston type.

    • dalecarville

      “As for the present, in nearly any hiring or academic selection process you can name, it is a clear and powerful advantage to be a woman or a minority.”

      In Devah Pager’s book (just out on U. of Chicago Press) “Marked” she relates a study she did (as part of a dissertation which won the American Sociological Association’s Phd. Dissertation of the Year Award) where white and black men were paired up and sent to apply for various job openings around New York and Milwaukee. Submitting resume’s with equal levels of education and experience, the applicants also alternated copping to a fictitious drug felony in their past. She did a year of fieldwork, auditing hundreds of employers and the results reveal your top-of-the-powdered-wig assessment to be spectacularly inept: “The core result of the research is that callbacks to job applicants were received for 34% of White testers, 17% for Whites with prison records, 14% for Blacks without prison records, and 5% for Blacks with prison records.”

      Did you get that? Whites with prison records did better than Blacks with clean records, all other things being equal.

      Your scorn is absurd. Your hauteur unearned.

  • Moosebreath

    “The impression I got at libertarian gatherings when I was a graduate student was that many of the participants thought the world was fair and that there was equal opportunity in the U.S”

    The impression I get speaking to most libertarians ranges from total lack of interest in whether or not the world is fair (i.e., viewing “fairness” as an inappropriate goal for society) to active opposition to making the world more fair (a position I describe as being willing to trade every other right for a reduction in marginal tax rates).

    • Libertymike

      Moose, the universe of people who would be willing to trade every other right for a reduction in marginal tax rates does not consist of a single libertarian.

      • Moosebreath

        If you say so. I’ve met a large number of self-proclaimed libertarians for whom it is at most mild hyperbole. They may be what Aeon Skoble describes as “Republicans-who-like-to-use-libertarian-rhetoric”, but the boundary between the two seems sketchy at best to me.

        • Libertymike

          Aeon Skoble’s description would appear to be apt.

      • Farstrider

        I think Moose is speaking of the Ayn Rand type of Republican who calls himself “libertarian.”

        • Moosebreath

          I’d call them acolytes of Rand who call themselves libertarians, but yes. I am not sure why you think they fall on the Republican side of the boundary, rather than the libertarian side.

          • Libertymike

            In my experiences, Randians often take pains to disassociate themselves from libertarianism, in general, as well as individual libertarians, in particular.
            The devotees of Rand will absolutely run from any association with anarchism. Remember, Ms. Rand did profess a great deal of faith in the concept of the state having a monopoly on the use of force as well as the administration of justice.

          • Moosebreath

            “In my experiences, Randians often take pains to disassociate themselves from libertarianism, in general, as well as individual libertarians, in particular.”

            Not my experience at all. To the contrary, most self-proclaimed libertarians I have met say they came to their beliefs primarily through Rand, and many still follow her thinking in large parts.

            “The devotees of Rand will absolutely run from any association with anarchism.”

            True, but anarchism is not at all the same thing a libertarianism. There is considerable overlap, but certainly not all libertarians are anarchists.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      Funny I thought most libertarians were active in opposition to making the world more fair by using government because it nearly always ends up being a lot worse in the long run.

      • good_in_theory

        Plenty of them seem to be active in opposition to making the world more fair by using government because it makes them worse off. The effect on other people isn’t really to the point.

  • Steven Horwitz

    And for some of us BHLs, the question of whether such government programs designed to help the least well off, actually have that consequence. One could oppose such programs on BHL grounds if one thought they were ineffective and that an alternative would do better.

  • Aeon Skoble

    “I think there is something distinctive of bleeding heart libertarians. All of us care about the plight of the less fortunate” Don’t think this does it either. Is this not an explicit concern as far back as Smith? Isn’t the point of criticisms of the minimum wage that they harm the very people they’re intended to help? Which libertarians don’t care about the plight of the less-well-off? I think your contrast base is Republicans-who-like-to-use-libertarian-rhetoric, not libertarians. (As to the former, I hate those guys too!)

    • good_in_theory

      It seems to me that there are people who oppose the minimum wage because they see it as preventing pareto improvements which they see as being good by definition, and that there are people who oppose the minimum wage because they don’t think anyone should be able to tell them what they can’t do, within limits. What paying people less than the minimum wage does for others, or for society, isn’t really their concern. What matters is what not being able to pay the minimum wage does to them.

    • Aeon Skoble

      Andrew, I’m confused- are you talking about lay people, like the RWLTULRs I mentioned above, or libertarian philosophers? If the latter, to whom are you referring? Not anyone I know.

  • Farstrider

    In an earlier discussion, Jessica Flanigan, one of the blog’s main authors, asked:

    ” If it turned out that empirically people (especially the worst off) were way better off if they didn’t have the right to own productive property, or smoke, or home school their kids, then you would favor serious limits on all those rights? ”

    To which I responded:

    “Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath.”

    Jessica never responded, I think because of the reasons you indicated above. If a “right” or institution reliably leads to human misery and suffering — and importantly for this point, the right or institution’s presence is worse than its absence — than we should immediately dispense with it. To do otherwise is just evil.

    The problem, of course, is determining out which rights and institutions lead to such suffering and convincing others of our conclusions! But the hypothetical happily does away with these problems.

    • Libertymike

      What about the means?
      Employing violence to achieve ends is not exactly laudable.

      • Farstrider

        Depends on the ends. And on the nature of the violence necessary to achieve them. Self defense is violent, but we all agree it is laudable.

        • Libertymike

          Generally, should we not embrace Solzhinitsyn’s command that “the higher the ends, the higher must be the means?”

          • Farstrider

            Yeah, I have no problem with that. But that’s not what you said.

    • M S

      “Anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the
      welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath.”

      “If a “right” or institution reliably leads to human misery and suffering
      — and importantly for this point, the right or institution’s presence
      is worse than its absence — than we should immediately dispense with
      it. To do otherwise is just evil.”

      So, wait, are you saying that any person who isn’t purely consequentialist is evil and/or a sociopath? You do realize that covers the vast majority of people out there, right? I’m not saying that we ought to look to what is popular in order to determine proper moral theory. I’m just saying that if you are advocating a moral theory under which the vast majority of people are evil sociopaths, it would be nice to have a bit of an argument to go with it.

      • Farstrider

        Ok, here is the argument. If you are in favor of an institution, even if (a) that institution reliably leads to human misery and suffering and (b) there would be less human misery and suffering in the absence of that institution, then you must favor the institution (or its perceived benefits) above the suffering of humans. I’m comfortable with that being a working layman’s definition of sociopathy. If you want to quibble with my lay use of that term, that’s fine. I’m also content with “evil”.

        Since I never said anything about “popularity,” I’m not sure what that has to do with anything. Also, I don’t think this is an argument for “pure” consequentialism. It is, however, an unabashed argument that you cannot completely IGNORE consequences, as Ms. Flanigan suggested.

        • M S

          Okay, I may have misunderstood your point. It seemed like what you were saying was closer to the idea that consequences should always trump rights. If all you were arguing for is consequence-sensitivity in morality, then I don’t disagree with that.

      • good_in_theory

        Why should one expect a moral theory to make most people look good? Moral theories aren’t projects of exculpation and post-hoc justification. If most people do bad, so be it.

        • M S

          I don’t expect a moral theory to make most people look good. It’s unlikely there is any plausible moral theory under which most people aren’t morally culpable or deficient, at least some of the time.

          But that’s different from a moral theory under which most people are evil. If it seems like that’s what your moral theory implies, then I’m going to take a pretty skeptical stance towards it pending a really persuasive argument in its favor.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    I do not think there is a lot of difference.
    I believe how you look at it all comes down to which direction that you came to libertarianism from. In your case the left hence, you assumed that Republicans never thought much about equality of opportunity. I came from the right as I was certain that Democrats at their core, only wanted to expand government because that is where their power, wealth, and votes came from.
    .We were both probably partly right.
    Having been here a while I find that although I am still no bleeding heart, (in fact I would describe myself as old, cynical, and flinty-hearted) I agree with most of you contributors here on fundamentals most of the time.

  • Andrew

    By and large, I take the comments here to confirm the post.

    By the way, in my own field, I seriously doubt it is an advantage to be a woman or a minority; the last I heard, the evidence was that women and minorities get more interviews but not more jobs (j R’s point). They also still suffer harassment.

    course, there is a difference between policies that claim to be (and perhaps even are) non-racist and non-sexist and people actually being non-racist and non-sexist. I have little patience for claims that there is no longer racism or sexism–or that affirmative action programs show that there is no longer a problem even if there is racism or sexism.

    Also, it’s likely true that many of the people at the libertarian gatherings I referred to were “Republicans-who-like-to-use-libertarian-rhetoric,” as Aeon says. But the gatherings were organized by libertarian institutions (ok, at least one was organized by a conservative-libertarian institution) and the RWLTULR folks were not, so far as I recall, corrected. In some cases, they were encouraged. I tend to think this was (is) less of a problem with academic philosophers that are libertarians than with other academics, but I don’t trust my judgement about that.
    The problem, I suppose, was the bad and odd marriage of libertarians and conservatives.

    • Sean II

      “I have little patience for claims that there is no longer racism or sexism”

      Well, since no one made such an absurd claim, your patience can rest easy today.

      The issue at stake is whether racism and sexism still have much left in the way of explanatory power to account for race/sex disparities in income, education, etc. The key points are these:

      1) Sexism has declined massively in the last 50 years, and sex-based disparities have declined but not disappeared. If you actually give a damn about what this non-disappearence might mean, see: Caplan, Bryan. If you just want to moralize and posture about it, then keep on keeping on.

      2) Racism has declined massively in the last 50 years, but racial disparities have not disappeared. Some groups – Asians and Jews – have gone from being locked out of the executive suite to owning it. Other groups are stuck like glue to the floor. If you actually give a damn about what this might mean, then please do anything other than what you did with that last comment.

      • Andrew

        Yes, racism and sexism seem to have declined in the last 50 years. Yet the income and wealth disparities persist. What do you make of that? As importantly, do you really think that the fact that racism and sexism have declined mean they no longer have any thing to do with the disparities?
        By the way “see: Caplan, Bryan” is not very helpful. If you provide a specific reference, I might look at it.

        • Sean II

          “Yet the income and wealth disparities persist. What do you make of that?”

          Those disparities need explaining. That’s what I make of them.

          So tell me: what explanations have you considered?


          No idea what I’m talking about when I mention Caplan here? Not familiar? Can’t guess?

          This time there are two possibilities:

          1) You’re being disingenuous again.

          2) You’re talking out of your hat, and despite having strong opinions about wage disparities between the sexes, you really aren’t familiar with things like this:

          Fortunately for you, I suspect the lesser evil: 1).

          • Andrew

            I did not say I didn’t know who Caplan is. But he has, believe it or not, written more than 1 thing. If you want to suggest something to someone to read, you should try being specific.
            As for my explanations… Your tone does not leave me wishing to explain myself to you in any detail. The most concern for you I can muster is to suggest you look at this:

          • Sean II

            Hmmm. Sounds like you’re setting the stage for a tap out there.

            Don’t go yet. Much more to discuss.

    • Sean II

      Oh, and just in case anyone thinks this stuff doesn’t matter, let me say for the Nth time…

      If you think this isn’t important, you’re kidding yourself.

      Statism gets its structural power from interest groups, rent-seekers, crony capitalists, etc. This includes plenty of people left, right, and center.

      But statism gets most of its moral and intellectual juice from arguments about inequality and especially group inequality.

      It is thus crucially important that we should figure out why inequality exists between people and groups. To evade this question because its uncomfortable is just disgustingly negligent.

      To parrot the lazy, simplistic, and ever-more-obviously incorrect theories the left uses to explain group inequality (namely, that it’s caused entirely by mean people) is just an intellectual crime.

      • Andrew

        What is “juice”? How does statism get it from arguments about inequalities? For my part, I think it pretty clear that state power has contributed to group inequalities. The legacy of racist government policies is hard to underestimate, I think.

        • Sean II

          “What is juice?”

          Seriously? You don’t understand what juice means in that sentence? You can’t figure it out? You don’t really seem old enough not to either know or be able to figure that “juice”, as used there, means energy, momentum, cultural influence, power, etc. Seems a bit disingenuous to me, that question. Not exactly dropping a coin in the bank of goodwill there, are you Andrew?
          “The legacy of racist government policies is hard to underestimate, I think.”

          Think again. Since some people blame past racist policies for nearly everything that ails the inner city, no matter how much time passes, the problem is rather one of overestimating the legacy of racism – estimating it up so high that it explains everything.

          Also, you’ve got serious evidence problems, which you’re not even pretending to address. Why, for instance, does the racist policy represented by Manzanar have no big and lasting negative effects on Japanese Americans, while the racist policy of Jim Crow seems to have a magic power to continue oppressing people decades after being dismantled.

          Don’t play at this, if you aren’t prepared to face such questions.

          • Andrew

            First: “dropping a coin in the bank of goodwill” is kind of funny given the tone of your comments.  Given that tone, I am not sure why I am responding at all, but here I am.

            Second: Perhaps you forget that the U.S. Government officially apologized and made reparations for Manzanar?  You’ll deny this, of course, but it seems to me a pretty big difference between that case and the case of African Americans.

          • Sean II

            Just to be clear: are you saying that the reason why Japanese-Americans are on average well-educated and prosperous today is because of those reparations?

            Is that really what you believe?

          • Andrew

            Did not say that, do not believe that. I said it was a big difference. That there is such a difference means your attempt to make an analogy between the racist policies of Manzanar and Japanese Americans with those of Jim Crow and African Americans fails.

          • Sean II

            No, that analogy fails ONLY IF the difference between cases is IMPORTANT TO the point being analogized.

            And Andrew – you are a philosophy professor, yes? – the difference is only important if post-interment reparations are the REASON why Japanese-Americans have fared better than post-Jim Crow blacks.

            Since you are not saying that…what exactly are you saying?

          • Andrew

            Sorry, but I have already given you far more attention than your comments suggest you deserve. If you are more civil in the future, I might give more.

          • Sean II

            So one of the cool things about these comment threads is the way they allow other people to trace the dialogue and judge for themselves.

            Anyone who wants to can look and see that you did not react well to being challenged. They can see that you were evasive and disingenuous (“what is ‘juice’?”), and that – even though those things are acts of passive-aggression, you turned right around and had the plain chutzpah to accuse me of rudeness for pointing that out!

            And most importantly, anyone can see that you backed out when faced with a very simple question.

            Why don’t we let them decide whether you are striking a blow for conversational civility, or just running away from a fair fight.

          • Andrew


  • Brian J. Gladish

    ” If there is some core belief that unifies these, its likely about the way society should be set up.”

    If there is anything that I believe it is that we need to let “society” set itself up. Any idea that there will be worldwide acceptance of any way that “society should be set up” is a fantasy, especially without suggesting a very long process of convergence.

    • Andrew

      I more or less agree. I meant for “should be set up” to allow for the possibility that this would be spontaneous order.

  • Beth

    This might not be the kind of comment that you are looking for -but, I am so proud of my brother who cares so much that he is able to be flexible in his beliefs and also understand the importance of this flexibility. Perhaps it is this flexibility that sets you, the BHL, apart from the others. This I applaud.

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