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A worry about basic income

Via Pete Boettke, I see that Don Boudreaux has posted a criticism of the enthusiasm among some libertarians (including some of the BHL co-bloggers) for a basic income:

That policy might well be better than what we currently have, but I fear that the chances are high that we would soon hear – not long after its implementation – cries such as “You are hypocritical to object to government policy X because government is the root source of your income. Because government guarantees each of us an annual income of at least $10,000, our prosperity and well-being and civil peace spring from this policy. As such none of us has any right, or strong grounds on which to stand, to engage in civil disobedience or even to oppose government regulation.”

Such arguments are, of course, heard now. (“Government pays a large chunk of our medical bills, so it has a right to regulate our diets!”) My fear is that an explicit government guaranteed minimum income – especially one given to all Americans – would make such arguments seem to be even more plausible and to apply more widely. If so, that could be tragic.

This isn’t quite the same point, not in the way he means it, but it helps me see the following:

The basic income theorists are explicitly theorists of an unconditional basic income. (UBI is the usual acronym for the policy they support.) But I wonder whether unconditionality is politically sustainable, whether it’s robustly self-reinforcing (in the way that, say, Social Security in the United States has proven to be robustly self-reinforcing). I have my doubts. Think about the politics of disenfranchisement in the United States. It’s proven to be politically easy to slip down the slope from disenfranchising those serving prison sentences to permanent disenfranchisement of those who’ve ever been convicted of a felony, to say nothing of various de facto types of disenfranchisement. There’s political support for that kind of thing, most though not quite all of it deriving from a history of institutional racism. For that matter, think about the already-existing politics of welfare provision, in which there’s always political support to be found for conditionality even when it wouldn’t save any money.

If tomorrow the U.S. were to enact (but not constitutionalize) a $10,000 per year per person UBI, how long would it take for the first proposals for conditionality to be introduced in Congress? Not for felons in prison; not for felons after their terms are over; not for those who fail drug tests; not for the third or higher child of unemployed parents; not for high school drop-outs…

If the whole population has opinions transformed all at once to come to see a UBI as a right demanded by social justice, of course, this couldn’t arise. But in the political world we inhabit, the magnitude of a BI would only increase the political attractiveness of conditionality; there will always be the chance to win an election by arguing that hard-working taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to support some small-enough undeserving population. I wonder whether the eventual political equilibrium point would be both more expensive and more regressive than the status quo.

  • Theresa Klein

    there will always be the chance to win an election by arguing that hard-working taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to support some small-enough undeserving population.

    And they’d be right.

    The problem with the basic income is that it’s NOT founded in any kind of universal theory of justice. The argument for it is that it would be less burdensome and more fair than the current welfare system. But LESS burdensome and MORE fair is not equivalent to burdenless or just.

    Nevermind the very good point that if I am expected to support someone else’s life maybe I should be allowed to place conditions on that support. If you don’t have a theory about why it’s just to force some people to pay a basic income to others unconditionally, then you’re never going to convince peoiple that they shouldn’t be allowed to place conditions on it.

    • jtlevy

      There are plenty of people with such theories. I’m not one of them; I’m an curious and undecided onlooker with some non-justice-based reasons for sympathy with UBI.

      • Theresa Klein

        You’re right. Other people have theories, but they aren’t libertarian ones. I haven’t heard a libertarian theory for the basic income, and it conflicts (at least to me) with the basic justice of property rights theory. I can’t understand how you could ever sustain political support for a BIG without convincing the majority of people that people are just entitled to free stuff for being alive, which would undercut libertarianism in general.

    • AP²

      That’s not really a problem with UBI; even if it is/was founded in an universal theory of justice, it would be impossible to convince everyone of its righteousness, especially those who have a self-interest in opposing it.

      Policies aren’t implemented by convincing everyone of their justice, they’re implemented by convincing enough peope that they’d be better offf and dealing with the rest.

    • judd

      Do you oppose a basic income on grounds of universality (it’s ridiculous rich kids would get it type of thing) or on the grounds that no one should, regardless of their circumstances, receive guaranteed support from the state?

      • Theresa Klein

        I oppose it on the grounds that it’s unjust to take the money for it from someone who has done nothing wrong, against their consent.

        • judd

          Regardless of the consequences of such a policy? If it led to 10 percent of people starving say?

          • Theresa Klein

            Yes. Regardless of the consequences, it is unjust to take from a person who has done nothing wrong, against his consent.

    • j-Lib

      @Theresa: we geolibertarians, if we do advocate a UBI, do in fact ground it in a universal theory of justice. We tend to call CD, Citizens Dividend — signifying that individuals are collectively shareholders in some kind of common investment. What is it?

      Equal human rights imply equal right to use the earth. Remember Locke’s provison, that every one deserves “as much, and as good” as every one else?

      The dynamics of human population growth(and flows), against fixed or diminishing land supply, and our exclusive-tenure system, lead to vast inequities in land access both in terms of quantity and value. 
      The inequity reflects in the value attaching to land. The rent of a parcel arises not because a titleholder made the land. It arises because 1) the land is scarce, 2) the law allows an individual to fence it in and claim exclusive possession of it, perhaps making it scarcer still, and 3) it is surrounded by a busy, productive community,  

      The rent therefore meausres not what the titleholder has done but what the community has done under either private or public aegis. It is actually a social surplus created by synergy, proximity, specialization, etc as well as any useful public goods: law enforcement, infrastructure, etc. It sticks to individual pieces of land, again, simply because our particular law and custom surrounding land allow individual titleholders to demand it.

      Therefore if we chose to redirect that fund of land rent and either 

      a) plow it back into worthwhile public investments, such as the ones that helped create the land value in the first place, and/or 

      b) distribute it as if a dividend to equal shareholders (UBI),

      we are not violating the right of any producer nor stifling production in any way. To the contrary, we are righting an institutionalizing injustice. In the process, we’re also actually making markets more efficient and allowing the creatiin of more wealth.

      The Physiocrats advocated a very similar policy, and they literally invented “laissez-faire.”

      • Theresa Klein

        I get that argument, but to make it just you would have to limit the UBI to only an equal share in the value of the raw resource itself. You could not claim the right to take the money from the income taxes of (say) a software developer – whose income is derived entirely from the products of human labor and ingenuiety that he has acquired through exchange.
        In other words, you would only be allowed to use property taxes to pay for it, and then only physical resources that are being used to produce income, such as farmland, mining claims, fishing rights, and so forth. And then you could only tax the portion of the income that is derived purely from the land itself – the value of the raw ore, or unprocessed grain. You could not tax the value added by refining and milling.
        I find it hard to believe that a UBI based only on the value of the raw, unprocessed, materials derived from the property claim would amount to much.

        I guess you could figure in some factor derived from owning a really great location for a retail store – but you would still have to find a way to exclude takings of weath that comes from the owners own business management or salemanship. How do you decide if the sucess of a particular restauraunt is because it is well located, or because the food tastes good? It seems unworkable. Or are you saying that we just invent whatever tax we feel like and apply it to everyone because it’s all a big indistinguishable mush?

        (Edit: not even unprocessed grain or ore really, because obviously some labor and intelligence and capital went into planting, fertilizing, harvesting, buying mining equipment, drilling, prospecting, digging a mind shaft, etc. All you can really tax is the value of the unmined ore in the ground – or the potential to farm it.)

        • LarryRuane

          Good points, and notice there’s a start-up problem too: It’s not just to tax the value of someone’s land if that person bought it from someone else, because the price the person paid incorporated the value of the land (at the time of the sale). The government could tax only the (supposedly unearned) increment in the value of the land while this person owned it. For the rest, the government would have to go after the previous owner — but what if that person has died or has no money, or had bought it from yet another previous owner (and so on)?

          My objections are moral, but even at the practical level, there is no way such a tax could be considered just.

  • Jameson Graber

    After thinking about the open borders issue, I’ve decided UBI is kind of a silly idea. If we really want to establish a *universal* minimum standard of living, we’re really doing a crappy job if it only applies to people already living in developed nations.

    • jtlevy

      This is another reason I have for hesitating to join the UBI cause. I just can’t believe that it wouldn’t make open borders (or even opener borders) politically more difficult, and if I’m going to choose one semi-utopian ideal cause to improve the welfare of the poor it’ll be open borders.

      • Hyena

        This assumes a lot about the number of immigrants and the size of their welfare gains, no? I mean, there have only been 73 million US immigrants in the history of the country.There are currently about 311 million people and the proposed UBI would sit just under the 8th decile. That means about 90 million people would receive an immediate, dramatic improvement in their lives. Around 30 million would see their income more than triple, around 60 million would see their income more than double. Further, 311 million people would gain a measure of control over their lives which is difficult to explain to people who’ve either never had such an income or never not had it.

        Overall, however, my point is this: dramatic benefits will accrue to more people than have ever immigrated to the US, so to object on immigration grounds will require extremely strong arguments.

    • j r

      We have already established a universal minimum standard of living. We are just administering that standard through a crappy, inefficient, and often inhumane system.

      • Sean II

        A very important point. Whether here or in Britain, Germany, etc., it no longer makes sense to speak of anti-poverty measures. Poverty has already been decisively defeated, although only in a clumsy sort of way.

        The thing that remains to menace the poor is moral rather than material poverty. Lack of work is the key ingredient, and not enough has been said here about that in the context of discussing UBIs.

        It’s hard to think of a less libertarian idea than national service, or 1930s style make-work brigades…but close observation of the unworking classes makes you start to wonder what is less harmful:

        1) Yet another “anti-poverty” measure that decouples consumption from work, or

        2) A bit of nasty, statist, employer-of-last-resort regimentation that at least tries to forge a connection between them, or

        3) A step back in the general direction of “who doesn’t work, shall not eat”.

      • TracyW

        The current system is however less inefficient and/or less inhumane than a UBI. Once you take into account the paying-for-it side.

      • Jerome Bigge

        With a lot of “administrative overhead” adding to the cost of the system. What people don’t understand is that there is always “overhead” in any system of money transference. For health insurance, this is apparently 20% or so. Compare this to other services such as student loans. Or credit cards for that matter. Or the administration of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. There is always some “administrative overhead”, with less being better than more unless savings result from more administration, which is rarely the case.

  • jtlevy

    By the way, while I have some disagreements with standard ways of framing the ideal theory/ non-ideal theory divide, this is a straightforwardly non-ideal worry that fits within the standard categories.

  • M Lister

    The comparison with disenfranchisement is an interesting one, and one I’d not thought of before. I suspect that most people’s support for at least permanent disenfranchisement is quite thin- if they support it, it seems to them like a good idea primarily until they think about it seriously. Of course, many people support it for cynical reasons not related to the direct merits- reasons that will not be, in many cases, completely transparent to them. At first I thought this might weaken the argument made on the comparison- it might show that better leadership and better public discourse could overcome the bad arguments that support the thin support for restrictionist policies (for voting or for a basic income.) But thinking a bit more, I’m less optimistic- if the deeper reasons for support are less rational emotions- racism, resentment and envy, etc.- then rationalistic attacks on bad reasoning are unlikely to work. I’m a believer that feasibility is a part of justice, so if this is right, it’s a significant worry about UBI. Anyway, lots of interesting stuff to think about.

  • Kevin Vallier

    This is a really good concern. I’ll have to think about it more. A broader way to think about the worry is that most folks’ moral psychologies have a series “cheater-detection” element that leads us to be harsh to those cultural norms regard as bums or parasites. That’s always been my worry about UBIs, namely that too many people will find it morally outrageous to give everyone something with no strings attached at all. Media of various sorts will identify the most egregious cases and spread them widely, which will generate laws that in turn lead to conditionalization, just as it has with welfare policy in the US. It’s that source of cheater-outrage that will help supply the necessary political will to conditionalize a UBI once implemented.

    • I think it’s worth thinking about whether there are several equilibria here. We have lots of empirical evidence of, for instance, high-tax, high service states, and low-tax, low service states. It’s clearly possible to have a polity in which people tolerate the cheating (or have strong norms against such cheating so it doesn’t happen much) because their commitments to each other are important enough to them. It’s also clearly possible to have an equilibrium in which we give up on provision of such services because the number of cheaters is too high, or we think that undeserved benefits are much worse than denying benefits to the deserving.

      I don’t think there is anything fundamental about the formal institutions as such – this is a story of the importance of informal institutions and background beliefs for shaping our formal institutions. If it’s a multiple equilibria story, then it’s going to be hard to knock us from one to the other, but it doesn’t mean that one of them is an a priori impossibility. It just means that there is some serious groundwork needed before we can try and switch between equilibria.

      • Kevin Vallier

        Good, good, good. Yes, I agree.

    • I agree, and have made similar points on BHL in the past. To quote myself from a previous comment: “I think it’s quite possible that our evolved predispositions put certain constraints on the sorts of moral systems to which most people could be persuaded to conform, ditto for the sorts of social arrangements they could consider to be justified. … [N]o-strings attached guaranteed basic income schemes … would likely be politically impractical because many people are loath to see perceived “moochers” receiving “undeserved” rewards. To the extent that this is an evolved predisposition difficult to impossible to overcome (which I think likely), such schemes to be generally acceptable would have to be structured in a way to avoid triggering this reaction …”

      As to how a UBI might be so structured, from another of my comments: “Going by the example of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend and similar schemes, I think the key is that a) the UBI has to be funded as much as possible by external entities (not by voters themselves) and b) the funds have to be in exchange for some resource, or as compensation for some harm, that is by nature equally shared among all voters.” So, for example, we could charge companies a lot more for mineral rights on public land, impose large fees on immigrants, require other countries to compensate us in cash for our defense spending on their behalf, and so on.

      • J-Lib

        @Frank: Yes!
        At least, for mineral fees on public land. Maybe for immigrants. Re: foreign countries: i would advise them to defend themselves.

  • You make a great point. I think that in non-ideal theory, a big factor is going to be the level of social cohesion. In those places where people feel like they’re part of a bigger whole, there will be a much greater willingness to participate in unconditional programs. We’re all in it together, and so in virtue of that, we all owe each other a certain level of respect and dignity in life, which in part involves access to resources. In places that do not have this, where we can easily come up with ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ groups, then universality is much more challenging. The US has a political history of encouraging people to think along these lines, unfortunately. It’s even explicit in the ‘makers’ and ‘takers’ language that has become quite popular on the right. This sort of language is deeply disturbing, as it makes it easier for us to move away from the idea of political equality (and your example of disenfranchisement makes that clear).

    The more troubling thing to me is that I don’t think that it’s the economic bits that matter here. Disenfranchisement doesn’t reduce anyone’s tax burden, or create a more minimal state. (If anything, it makes it a bit easier to have a more expansive prison system.) Look at gay marriage – it has pretty much no macro effects on the economy or people’s tax burdens. But there’s an active effort to deny universality to marriage recognition. A UBI might be a casualty, but it’s not the cause of such lack of cohesion. Value pluralism and stable tribal affiliation is. When I’m encouraged to identify some group that has values that disagree with mine, and see myself in conflict with them, I’m going to have a hard time wanting to do anything political that’s both universal and treats both groups neutrally. (This applies to formal and informal institutions)

    I don’t think that this is a necessary consequence – I have a book manuscript arguing why diverse societies are a lot better off across a number of dimensions than homogeneous ones – but I do think that it can be readily fostered by political movements. UBI and other safety net concepts are casualties for sure, but it has very little to do with economic burden. I don’t want that other guy voting if his values are antithetical to mine. I don’t want his religious symbols where I can see them, I don’t want to have to accommodate him in any way. That’s the core burden. Liberal tradition was supposed to take care of this with accounts of tolerance, but I don’t think that they really do well under very diverse populations. It’s all (perceived) burden and no (perceived) benefit. Issues of property rights are just a manifestation of the issue, not the cause.

    • Sean II

      A serious problem with your comment: The language of “makers” and “takers” may disturb you, but that doesn’t change the fact that it accurately describes the essence of our political economy. And Ryan…when the truth is disturbing, whose fault is that?

      It’s not “the Right’s” doing that society is ever more obviously divided into a) people who take risks and work in ways that produce subjectively valuable goods and services, and b) people who don’t. True, it’s not like the Left created this situation alone, but one can’t fail to notice how enthusiastically they’ve led the way. Indeed, one of the last good reasons to prefer the Right is because it’s become the rallying point for the sort of middle-aged responsible people who show up to work and pay taxes and raise kids and generally bourgeois their way through life.

      The maker/taker divide is real. The line just isn’t as clear as everyone thinks. The average registered Democrat public school teacher is definitely a taker, while the average Republican pediatrician is part taker (subsidized school debt, occupational license rent), part maker. The average Republican “defense” industry participant is mostly a taker, while the average Democrat gentrification-pioneering downtown shop owner is mostly not.

      But none of this changes the fact that people in society experience others as makers and takers everyday. You make it sound like some gruesome character fault or historic pathology that people should notice this, name it, and talk about it. But the sad thing is not talking about makers and takers. The sad thing is that people haven’t found a way to stop being parasites to each other, or to start riding themselves of parasitism, as the case may be.

      Has it ever occurred to you…maybe the profligate taking of the takers is one of the reasons why social cohesion is hard to come by?

      • As you might expect, I just fundamentally disagree with you. I think it is particularly galling to call public school teachers profilgate takers – they are people who educate the next generation, and don’t make a whole lot of money doing it. Yes, their salary comes from taxes. But if we want to be able to pretend even that each generation has some sort of chance at demonstrating their merit, rather than the wealth of their parents, we need something like public schools. I’m happy to concede that you can find some public school teachers that are lazy or bad teachers or whatever you like, but that’s simply because it is true of literally every profession. I find it particularly ridiculous when this is compared to the ‘makers’ of wall street, many of whom have a very tenuous connection to producing anything of value.

        But more to the point, the “middle aged responsible people” that you point to are very likely to be teachers, police, firefighters, or other public employees. They show up to work and try to do a good job and live a nice life. They are people that provide things of value.

        That’s not to say that I don’t also think shopkeepers or yoga instructors or bankers or other people do things of value. We have a massive division of labor, and that’s great. It’s wonderful that we can all find different ways of producing value.

        Where you and I can likely agree is that we would benefit from finding areas where we might be able to remove obstacles to business formation, or silly occupational licensing like those for interior decorators or barbers. And it would be great if we removed all kinds of government subsidies from economic activity, like oil drilling.

        I am also happy to agree with you that there is real value to work and that finding ways to promote work (or more broadly, the successful completion of projects of various sorts) is a good idea. But linking working to being able to eat is not something I’m comfortable with, especially as the people who don’t work might have kids, and I’d like to make sure that those kids are eating. I’m perhaps a more optimistic guy than most, but I tend to think that most people want to work, and do something with their life. We don’t need to threaten them with starvation to make them want to engage in society. There might be some edge cases, but I’d rather not orient our society around the possibility that someone, somewhere, might be getting more than they deserve. I’m a lot more interested in the many many positive-sum interactions that we can have as a society.

        I don’t go through my day sorting people between makers and takers. I think that would be a rather unpleasant way of living life. I do think that once we lack much social cohesion, it’s true that it’s more likely that we’ll try and make these distinctions, which will further erode social cohesion. But since we have examples of high-tax, high-service states that have been chugging along perfectly well for decades, I think it’s unlikely that the presence of public school teachers has undermined these arrangements.

        • Damien S.

          Heck, a lot of economists are thinking that Wall street finance is actively destructive. Negative value. A homeless guy begging for change has more social value than the crooks who brought a real estate meltdown via mortgage fraud.

          • Sean II

            I find this type of remark fascinating.

            Why are the lenders crooks, while the borrowers are victims? I can see an argument that both share responsibility, and I can see an argument that both are victims. But how do you come to blaming the lenders alone?

          • stevenjohnson2

            Because the one party is the professional and because the one party is the one that benefits. Unscrupulous lenders rely on serious efforts to repay from the large majority of their victims. Predatory lending is like insurance, if you judge the payouts (i.e., losses from bankruptcy etc.) against the incoming payments, you’ll make money.

            I find it fascinating that you ask such a silly rhetorical question instead of commenting on the actual example.

          • Sean II

            “Predatory lending is like insurance, if you judge the payouts (i.e., losses from bankruptcy etc.) against the incoming payments, you’ll make money.”

            If that is so Steve – if “predatory lending” is such a can’t-lose deal – then why did those banks end up needing bailouts?

            Also, I’m really curious to hear more about your theory that only “professionals” are obliged to have ethics. That’s a new one…

            Finally (don’t feel obliged to answer this one Steve-O), weren’t there once some libertarians on this board?

            When I first came here, we didn’t spend quite so much time teaching remedial econ, introductory ethics, and the like.

          • stevenjohnson2

            First question: It’s one thing to make money with predatory lending. But when you leverage your money and financial paper into a speculative market, that’s something else entirely. That’s where they go broke. The implication that banks and stock brokerages melt down because they were ripped off by the underclass is as witless as it is slimy. And, by the way, making loans for speculative real estate is still speculation, which is still a synonym for gambling. You need remedical econ.

            Second question: The professional predatory lenders only make money because most of their victims nevertheless try to pay off debts basically impossible to pay off. It is the real existence of ethics amongst the majority that they take advantage of. Your theory that being an amateur nevertheless means you are to be regarded as a thief instead of a fool and or a victim is absurd. You need introductory ethics.

        • Sean II

          Can’t really count the ways in which you’re wrong here, but I’ll throw down a start.

          1) Public school teachers “don’t educate the next generation”. Who says that with a straight face anymore? They diseducate it, miseducate it, and warehouse it. That’s what public school teachers do with the next generation.

          2) Mean teacher salary is $56,000, not counting benefits. That’s more than the median HOUSEHOLD income in the United States. It is, therefore, fair to describe teachers as making “a lot of money”.

          3) You missed my point about the link between working and eating, and your “for the children” appeal doesn’t change anything. My point is: there are only bad choices. Feed people who don’t work, and you get an especially despairing, unworking underclass. Feed them on the basis of their child production, and get a truly sickening moral hazard whereby the state subsidizes the worst parents doing the worst parenting. Put the poor into statist make-work, and you get the problems inherent to that. Leave them to fend for themselves, and some of them won’t.

          Every option has a serious, and still unsolved downside. Don’t act like your pick of the bad bunch is just, you know, the clear winner for any reasonably nice person. Nice people should feel a little queasy in the face of all these options.

          4) You also missed my other point, and the question remains: what’s more likely to divide people against each other? Is it…a) the FACT that some people are taking what others make, or b) the ACT of noticing this.

          You seem to think the fact will remain hidden if only we don’t talk about it. You’re wrong.

          5) Those “high tax, high-service” states don’t actually have “high services”. They do have high taxes, and they have lots of “public servants” who are neither public nor servants.

          And those states are not “chugging along perfectly well”. They are headed for a massive pension disaster.

          • Hi Sean II,

            I suspect that we just have strongly divergent views, and no amount of argument is really going to move the other. But I’ll respond to your points, since you took the trouble.

            1) On this we just definitely disagree. I had a great public school education, from kindergarten through college. I’m happy to say that we can do better, and it is worth considering ways to improve public school education. Things that we both probably agree on: I don’t see why tenure really makes sense in k-12 teaching, nor do I see why last-in-first-out policies make sense. I’m more than happy to pay top performing teachers a lot more, and eliminate the worst-performing teachers. But this is a much different claim than public school teachers are universally parasites. I know a decent number of public school teachers, and they are all very dedicated and smart people who put in a ton of hours.

            2. According to the BLS, median teacher salary is $55,050 (as of 2012). The median salary of someone with a masters degree (but not a professional degree) was $61,000. With a professional degree, it’s $100k or so. So, comparing teachers to people with equivalent educational attainment, rather than the general population who has much lower levels of educational attainment, teachers are underpaid by at least 10%. The median american has a high school diploma and a year or two of something beyond that. It’s a bit misleading to compare the median american to the median teacher, given these educational differences.

            3. I haven’t argued that any policy is ideal. Since we’re engaging in non-ideal theory here, I just assume that there are tradeoffs. You and I just disagree on which tradeoffs we ought to make, and how we characterize the different outcomes. I wouldn’t describe something like a UBI as “the state subsidizes the worst parents doing the worst parenting.” I think (though I could easily be wrong) that you tend to think that poverty and/or unemployment is a permanent state. The average unemployed person cycles back into employment. Through policy, we can improve that rate. I also think that the context of poverty, rather than individual characteristics of poor people themselves, can create additional challenges to adopting ‘middle class values’ and the like. There are also structural issues at play – Chetty et al found, for instance, that highly segregated metros tended to offer the least mobility, and this was true for both blacks and whites. Areas that require long commutes to work also lead to lower social mobility across generations. Shafir and Mullainathan have some pretty amazing work on the context of poverty and how it affects decision-making. They show how wealthy people artificially induced into a poverty context perform just like poor people do, and poor people perform notably better when removed from the poverty context. So I strongly resist the claim that there’s a (genetic or cultural) underclass that we need to just accept. I’m interested in encouraging work, as you are, it’s just that I think we see different opportunities and barriers. I doubt that one of us is all right.

            4. I think that encouraging an orientation of tribal affiliation, along with an idea that one group is morally deficient, is deeply problematic for the hope of a well-functioning society. This is why I drew a larger connection between economic issues, picked up on the original point about denial of franchise, and added in marriage rights. The last two have nothing to do with economic parasitism. I view the maker and taker language as another version of the previous trope of who counts as a ‘real american’ which is equally vile. I am generally not a fan of ‘us vs them’ language, especially within a single polity. We can have our disagreements, but it is good to try and conceive of ourselves as in it together. Go too far down the in-group, out-group path, and you end up with civil wars and failed states.

            I agree with you that some people, at any given moment, need some services, and other people supply money for those services. I also tend to think that lots of people derive incomes from things that have serious negative externalities. But I disagree that these are permanent states of affairs, and I think that we can adjust policies to help people more effectively, and in doing so increase their level of autonomy. Talking about poverty and what we can do about it sounds great to me. Talking about the ‘takers’ and how they are enslaving the ‘makers’ is unproductive.

            5) Again, on this we just disagree. Some states spend a lot more on education, on health care, on anti-poverty measures, etc. These are real services and we can measure their results. I don’t think that the appropriate model of government is people sitting around burning tax money and cackling at the suckers. I’m delighted to find opportunities for efficiencies, and am actively interested in eliminating programs that don’t pass a reasonable cost-benefit analysis.

          • Sean II

            I love it when someone opens a comment by saying, in effect, “this conversation is pointless and I’m never changing my mind, but…”

            1) Not a compelling sample size. The fact that you enjoyed public school tells us nothing about it. The fact that some teachers are nice people doesn’t change the essential character of the system. For 30 years, there has been a steady rise in inputs, with outcomes flat as a dead man’s EKG. To the people who must pay for those rising inputs, the word “parasite” is certainly not too strong.

            2) Here is your worst point. First, only half of public school teachers have master’s degrees, so you’re just wrong to take “people with master’s degrees” as the comparison group when judging their salary. Frankly, that makes you sound like a union rep rather than a scholar.

            Second, the whole argument you’re making – that people with more education should automatically make more – is economically illiterate. From the production point of view, teacher’s degrees are just another input…and we have every reason to believe they are a dubious input, at that. You don’t tip a waiter more because he went to college. You don’t spend more on a smart phone, depending on whether its designer was a PhD or just some kid working out of a garage. The cool thing about being a consumer is you get to judge products on their value to you, instead of standing in awe before the imperial certificate carried by some Mandarin who controls the flow of goods.

            Third, this whole argument was a deflection on your part. The question was “do American public school teachers make a lot of money?” And the answer is “Hell yes, they are in the global 1%, and when benefits and security are taken into account, they are well above average even here.” At this point in the conversation, anyone who repeats the old cliche about teachers being underpaid is, frankly, risking his credibility.

            3) Yes, yes, yes…lots of people climb into and out of the category we call “the poor” – intellectual hipster grad students usually do so for a couple years, on their way to becoming entrenched Mandarins by mid-life.

            There’s a bit of noise in the statistics. So what? This doesn’t change the fact that “the poor” has a core of all-but-permanent residents, who generally do quite well when it comes to passing that sad legacy on to their (many) children.

            Also, Trading Places was a fun movie, with a morally appealing hypothesis. No doubt about that. You’ll always be able to find a few poets, artists, and intellectuals (I’d never heard of Shafir and Mullainathan until five minutes ago, but I’m pretty they set out to “find” exactly what they “found”) who will defend that theory at all hazards.

            The thing is, it’s dying by the hour. The theme of our age is “nature strikes back”. The whole reason why you have to resort to academic name-dropping and argument-by-citation in the middle of this discussion is because your claim bucks that overwhelming trend, flying in the face of prima facie evidence and common sense.

            Don’t do it, Ryan! You’ve got your whole intellectual life in front of you. Give nature its due. We can always argue about the precise extent of its influence once you’ve done that. Don’t be one of those guys who just acts like the genetics revolution didn’t happen. Don’t be one of those guys who thinks the only answer Charles Murray deserves is to be called a racist and ignored.

            4) Damn it, you’re still avoiding the issue. So I repeat: if the world really does include some people who are mostly makers, and some people who are mostly takers, isn’t that FACT most likely responsible for the division between such people?

            Why do you keep blaming the intellectual messengers, merely for the sin of discussing that fact?

            Let’s take a simple example, involving just two people: Person A is a woman who sells life insurance, and pays $50,000a year in incomes taxes. Person B is a federally funded grad student writing a dissertation on the umpteenth footnote of Rawl’s least important book. In terms of their relation to each other, Person A is a net maker, and Person B is a net taker. Person B produces nothing that Person A needs, and in any case, doesn’t have her consent. Meanwhile, Person A produces something Person B cannot live without. Maker, meet your taker…

            The way you have it, Person A should never notice this, because you think it’s ugly and rude. And if she does notice this, she shouldn’t mention it, because it might lead someone to oppose gay marriage or something.

            What the fuck? We live in a society with significant amounts of state-enforced wealth transfer, and you expect people not to notice or talk about that? And when they do talk about it, you smear them as racists and homophobes? Not fair. Not fair at all.

            There should never be a taboo against discussing things which a) actually exist, b) are interesting, and c) have important policy implications.

            The survival of our society depends, in part, on keeping at least enough makers in business making enough stuff to sustain our population of takers, with their considerable appetites.

            How can we do that, Ryan, if we can’t even admit those two categories exist?

            5) Here at last, we can let empirical evidence decide. Keep your eyes on California, New York, and New Jersey. It shouldn’t take more than five to seven years for the results to come crashing in. One thing I’ll grant you: the level of social service NEEDED in those state is definitely going to increase. If that’s what you had in mind calling them “high service”, then buddy…you’re welcome to it.

          • Well, it appears that I was right – I don’t take myself to have convinced you of anything, and I don’t think you’ve convinced me. So perhaps we’ve found an area of agreement.

            1) I agree that my personal experience is a tiny sample size. But so far you’ve not offered any data at all. The data I’m familiar with suggests only small improvements for white students since the 70’s, but pretty substantial improvements for minorities. (This might lead one to think that it wasn’t genetic differences, but rather structural social issues holding minority groups back.) There’s also pretty large differences across states – some are a lot more effective at public education than others. So perhaps you live in a state that’s particularly bad at it, and that has shaped your views.

            2) First, if you want to go by global income standards, then pretty much every employed person in the US is in the top 10% of the global rich. Fair enough – we’re fantastically fortunate to have been born in the US in the 20th century, rather than some other place and time. But the reason I brought up education levels as a relevant factor is that this is at least a proxy in a normal market for what one’s outside options are. If I could be gainfully employed at a given wage at firm B, firm A can’t really offer me a much lower salary and expect me to take the job. Since teaching is skilled labor, employers have to contend with the larger employment market.

            Several decades ago, it was true that the average school teacher was overwhelmingly female and extremely smart, and not paid a whole lot. But I take it that this was a social ‘benefit’ of women not having many options in the larger workforce. They more or less were socially permitted to become teachers or nurses. Now that a wider range of job options are available to women, that (unjust) implicit subsidy on education has gone away. Additionally, since there’s a group of people who seem to want to call teachers parasites, it’s not like we can recruit teachers based on the prestige of the position, like some countries can. So wages go up.

            3) What you call “resorting to academic name dropping” I call citing sources for empirical evidence. The Chetty et al paper comes from a massive data set. Shafir and Mullainathan papers and book come from many many studies conducted across several different populations. Lots of people are replicating those results. It’s pretty impressive and serious work. You may not have heard of them before, but that’s not a shock – why would we expect anyone to have complete awareness of all the major social science research?

            I’m not going to deny that there is no genetic influence in outcomes. But I doubt it’s very big. If it were in fact large, I think that would point in the opposite direction of libertarianism. If it’s big, then it’s obviously not someone’s individual merit that drives their outcomes in life. So then we should want pretty substantial tax and transfer. To my mind, more libertarian policies only really make sense if we can justify them on the grounds that people have the ability to act autonomously and have roughly equal powers. I don’t find libertarianism as a justification of a ‘natural hierarchy’ terribly compelling.

            4) I think we’re simply talking past each other. My point is that this is part of a larger us vs them phenomenon, which I think is more or less socially constructed. You want to hone in on just the economic component. At the very least, I think there’s a lot more intellectual work left for you to do to articulate the conditions for ‘maker’-dom. Would you agree that high-frequency traders are takers rather than makers? They don’t seem to create social value. Nor is it taking on much risk – one firm seems to have only had 1 day of losses in four years. When we get into philosophy dissertations or artwork or social commentary or whatever else, it’s not obvious that their immediate effects are a good measure of their overall social value. The people who work in extractive industries certainly make a lot of money right now, but at serious social costs that are currently going unpriced by the market. They sound like (at least partial) takers to me, but my guess is that you’d disagree. So mostly, I tend to think that the definition of ‘taker’ is going to be extremely value-laden, and not some mere descriptive accounting. There’s a group of people that you don’t like, or at least you don’t like their occupations, so you want to come up with a pejorative label for them. Some people are under-employed or not employed at all. I think your instinct is to think of this as an individual character flaw (perhaps with some genetic component), and I tend to think that there are policies that drive these distributions of employment, and there are policies that can help disrupt such patterns.

            I would also claim that we’re pretty far away from social or economic collapse. We make more stuff than ever before. Productivity rates are quite high. Returns to capital are quite large and growing. We do seem to have found ourselves in a situation where productivity gains aren’t really captured by workers, which is a serious problem. But that’s a separate issue from whether the production function is declining.

            5) Great, we can see what happens. I’d add MA and CT to the list at the very least, and probably the nordic countries as well, and we can probably throw some other countries in there as well. CA has some unique structural problems in that their state constitution has made it very difficult to raise taxes, so it’s not the best test case. Their problem is more or less orthogonal to the idea of a high-tax high-service equilibrium. But still, I expect CA to remain far wealthier than most of the rest of the US for the foreseeable future.

            I think we’ve gone down the discussion long enough. At this point we should probably respectfully disagree. It’s been a pleasure.

          • Sean II

            There is no “respectfully disagree” here. And don’t say it’s been a pleasure when it hasn’t. What purpose does that serve?

            I find you infuriating. You don’t listen very well, and you drop about a fallacy a minute. Just look at that last comment…where you:

            1) Bulverized me – “perhaps you live in a state that’s particularly bad at [public education], and that has shaped your views.”

            2a) Red herring’ed it up by raising some gender pay equity issue that has naught to do with anything – “But I take it that this was a social ‘benefit’ of women not having many options in the larger workforce.”

            2b) Tossed in a totally unjustified smear to the effect that I probably don’t want women in the workplace – see 2a.

            3) Appealed to consequences – “…libertarian policies only really make sense if we can justify them on the grounds that people have the ability to act autonomously and have roughly equal powers. I don’t find libertarianism as a justification of a ‘natural hierarchy’ terribly compelling.”

            4) Bulverized again “There’s a group of people that you don’t like, or at least you don’t like their occupations, so you want to come up with a pejorative label for them.”

            5) Forgot what ceteris paribus means, and why its really important in social science – “But still, I expect CA to remain far wealthier than most of the rest of the US for the foreseeable future.”

            And finally 6), you just lied – saying “it’s been a pleasure” when really you mean “fuck off”.

            Ryan, since you show no qualms about psychologizing me, let me return the favor: You seem like a young man, living in the kind of clear moral universe where young men do. I lived there myself, not too long ago.

            You show much difficulty understanding me, because you don’t seem to have a category in your mind that includes “libertarians who accept the implications of genetics/natural inequality while still believing that freedom makes everyone better off, and that no one has the right to rule others.” You also don’t seem to have a category for “people who recognize that parasitism happens among and between human beings, without hating anyone for it.”

            These are serious gaps in your understanding. Today they led you to classify me as some kind of red-state, teacher-hating redneck whose concern about wealth transfer is really just a bit of thinly veiled racism and misogyny. The thing is, Ryan, in this case thinking that – even as I painstakingly try to explain myself – makes YOU the bigot in this conversation.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Sean II, teachers have increasingly been micromanaged by educational administrators allegedly confronting an educational crisis since the Reagan Commission. Teaching still has an incredibly high exit rate for new hires yet every so-called educational reformer somehow manages to claim that one major problem with teaching is…not enough people leaving.

            The manifest idiocy should be enough to warn off any sane person. Either you have no clue at all as to what you’re talking about, or you’re a parrot squawking the propaganda. Insofar as there is an educational crisis it comes from the damage to public schools wrought by malicious attacks from people like you.

            The “implications from genetics” are not what you imply. You don’t understand how genetics works any better than you understand how public schools work. But yes, it is true that this ideological claptrap is typical of racism and bigotry. Other people will believe that it is personal racism and bigotry that makes the believers in natural inequality fall for this guff.

            By the way, C.S. Lewis was not a notably honest debater. His Bulverisms are merely a rhetorical trope to dismiss every appeal to caution about accepting prejudices. You ignore the argument on the issue, then whine about how pleading for fairness is a personal insult. On the upside, we have a new symptom for the ideologically blinkered, namely, use of the term “Bulverize.”
            .

          • Sean II

            Let Ryan answer for Ryan, or if he wishes, let him stick to his farewell and not say anything.

            Despite my complaints against him, he’s a full class above you, and you’re not up to the task of being his stand-in.

          • Dear Sean II,

            I’ve actually enjoyed the discussion. It’s good to engage with diverse views. You obviously have very strong and sincere beliefs that you’ve thought a lot about. There’s nothing I could say in this discussion to change those. Likewise, I’ve thought a fair amount about my position. But the only manageable goal in these discussions is to try and learn a bit about how a different view sees things, and maybe see things in a new light.

            I didn’t mean offense from the statement that perhaps you live in an environment with not-so-great public schools, and that’s colored your views. I grew up in a place with very good public schools, and that has certainly colored mine. It’s not an insult to say that people respond strongly to the environment around them – that’s just what humans do. I also don’t quite see how I insinuated that you’re anti-gay or don’t want women in the workplace. I pointed out that teacher wages in the past were artificially low because there were no outside options. Now that smart people that might have been forced to be teachers in the past have other opportunities, wages have to go up to take that into account. I was just suggesting a market mechanism to explain wage rates.

            As for appeals to consequences, of course I appeal to consequences. Consequences are important. You appeal to them too – you claim that freedom makes everyone better off. Why wouldn’t you make such a claim? You’re looking for insults – I’m not trying to make any. If I misunderstand your position, I apologize. I just assumed that when you use the term “parasite” you mean it pejoratively.

            Ultimately, and unfortunately, this is a situation in which we’re talking past each other. I don’t particularly think you’re engaging in what I have to say, and it’s clear that you don’t think I’m engaging in what you’re saying. Some of this is simply that we have divergent intuitions and starting premises. Ah well.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Starting premises are not a matter of taste. Some are factual. The success or failure of public education after decades of educational “reform” are factual premises. Someone who starts from false premises, ignoring all efforts to argue the point, is not discussing. Playing those games is never rewarding.

          • Sean II

            “As for appeals to consequences, of course I appeal to consequences. Consequences are important. You appeal to them too – you claim that freedom makes everyone better off. ”

            That is not what appeal to consequences means in this context.

            “Appeal to consequences” is – as I was sure you would be aware – a formal fallacy in which someone appeals to the pleasing or displeasing implications of a proposition as an invalid means of trying to show it true.

            For example, one might say: “Drug prohibition must be good, because otherwise that would mean millions of people have been unjustly punished for decades, and such a thought is intolerable. Thus, drug prohibition is good.”

            As you can see, that argument takes a form which is everywhere and always invalid. Whether or not we like the implications of a proposition is not a form of evidence on its behalf.

            The issue of how to reckon consequences in ethics is totally separate from this fallacy, and has nothing to do with that part of my post. For example, it is perfectly find to say “Drug prohibition is bad because it has harmful consequences X,Y, and Z.” Nothing wrong with that.

            When did you commit the formal fallacy? You did it here: “…libertarian policies only really make sense if we can justify them on the grounds that people have the ability to act autonomously and have roughly equal powers. I don’t find libertarianism as a justification of a ‘natural hierarchy’ terribly compelling.”

            Forgive the spell-out, but the problem with that snip is it catches you making the claim that “natural hierarchy” must be false because otherwise libertarianism doesn’t make sense.

            That’s not how this truth thing works. First, we face the facts. Then we argue about what they mean. But one thing we don’t get to do…is to ignore certain facts because maybe we don’t like what they mean, and because maybe they make it harder to ground our favorite political philosophy.

            And as it happens, you’re wrong on the specifics as well. I used to think exactly what you do: that we needed a blank slate view of human nature with more or less unlimited free will in order for liberty to work. I was wrong. First, because those things simply are not true. We don’t start with a blank state, and each of us really can’t be anything he dreams of being in life. We are each born with a certain potential, and with equally certain limits.

            But I was also wrong in thinking this had anything to do with liberty and markets. Indeed, the fact that we are so different is one of the things that – thanks to comparative advantage – makes it absolutely essential that we interact through markets instead of coercion. Comparative advantage is the means by which humanity’s geniuses can enrich the lives of its fools.
            That’s just one of the things that makes markets amazing.

            At the same time, the fact that human beings are so intraspecifically diverse is one of the best reasons for them to have equality before the law. Because nature has made us some strong, some weak, it is more important than ever that we should eschew force in human relationships.

            So you see, libertarianism can – and because it is a fact, must – go hand in hand with a recognition of innate human differences.
            __________________________________________________

            “I also don’t quite see how I insinuated that you’re anti-gay or don’t want women in the workplace.”

            Well, you’ve repeatedly suggested that my manner of thinking – for instance, admitting that there may be such a category as makers and takers – is either a product of other-bashing, or at least a slippery slope on the way to it. How did you put it…

            “I think that encouraging an orientation of tribal affiliation, along with an idea that one group is morally deficient, is deeply problematic…This is why I…picked up on the original point about denial of franchise, and added in marriage rights….I view the maker and taker language as another version of the previous trope of who counts as a ‘real american’ which is equally vile. I am generally not a fan of ‘us vs them’ language, especially within a single polity…Go too far down the in-group, out-group path, and you end up with civil wars and failed states”

            That wasn’t terribly subtle, Ryan. No mistaking the hint, really. True, you didn’t call me any names directly, like racist, homophobe, woman-hater, etc. But you laid it on thick enough that you locate me in the general range of apologists/enablers for that sort of thing.
            ___________________________________
            Finally, let me ask you a simple question: if you really have enjoyed this discussion, why do you keep saying it’s pointless? And why do you conclude every post by signing off as if it were your exasperated last?

        • Jerome Bigge

          Professional and occupation licensing reduces the number of providers and increases the effective monopoly people in these fields enjoy. This in turn raises costs for everyone else. The same thing is true of a lot of government “regulation”. It appears that the more “licensing and regulation” you have, the higher living costs go. While at the same time consumer choice decreases. This can have serious consequences at times. Unfortunately both of our major political parties seem to think that licensing and regulation are good, whereas the truth is the opposite.

  • stevenjohnson2

    UBI as near as I can see flies in the face of too many fundamental conservative principles, such as the natural inequality of people; the role of the state as the Scourge of God, punishing (or at least restraining) the wicked; the social order as the manifestation of God’s Will, displaying the rewards to and tests of the virtuous in contrast to the miseries meted out to and the opportunities of reformation neglected by the sinners. It is notoriously difficult to reconcile these notions with the world of facts, but by and large conservatism and religion are not committed to reason. Happily for these people, there are many, many philosophers and scientists who agree that there are limits to science and other ways of knowing. “Cheaters” are sinners, and wicked.

    I don’t really see that libertarianism of the bleeding heart variety I’ve seen here (I haven’t been watching that long, recent developments haven’t been marking fundamental changes, have they?) is committed to the project of refuting these fundamental premises from conservatism. Overall, it seems to me that libertarians are wholly committed to being part of the conservative movement on the basis of policy agreements, differing only in tending to accept purely rational arguments. To rephrase, the thing with UBI is that the fundamental arguments against are not purely rational. A policy disagreement between libertarians and conservatives over UBI in which libertarians will not challenge the arguments of the conservatives seems to me doomed as a matter of policy.

    This site is particularly committed to law and technical philosophy rather than economics. It seems to me that libertarian economic theory defines state interference in the market as intrinsically a violation of human rights. For the state to interfere in labor markets with UBI is therefore profoundly immoral. And, since removing that negative sanctions of poverty (lower social status, practical exclusion from all the benefits of society, humiliation, deprivation, stunted growth and earlier death,) will damage the efficiency with which society carries on economic activities. Doesn’t bleeding heart libertarianism found itself upon the presumption that the unfettered activity of markets promotes economic growth, which is equivalent to human welfare?

  • stevenjohnson2

    UBI as near as I can see flies in the face of too many fundamental conservative principles, such as the natural inequality of people; the role of the state as the Scourge of God, punishing (or at least restraining) the wicked; the social order as the manifestation of God’s Will, displaying the rewards to and tests of the virtuous in contrast to the miseries meted out to and the opportunities of reformation neglected by the sinners. It is notoriously difficult to reconcile these notions with the world of facts, but by and large conservatism and religion are not committed to reason. Happily for these people, there are many, many philosophers and scientists who agree that there are limits to science and other ways of knowing. “Cheaters” are sinners, and wicked.

    I don’t really see that libertarianism of the bleeding heart variety I’ve seen here (I haven’t been watching that long, recent developments haven’t been marking fundamental changes, have they?) is committed to the project of refuting these fundamental premises from conservatism. Overall, it seems to me that libertarians are wholly committed to being part of the conservative movement on the basis of policy agreements, differing only in tending to accept purely rational arguments. To rephrase, the thing with UBI is that the fundamental arguments against are not purely rational. A policy disagreement between libertarians and conservatives over UBI in which libertarians will not challenge the arguments of the conservatives seems to me doomed as a matter of policy.

    This site is particularly committed to law and technical philosophy rather than economics. It seems to me that libertarian economic theory defines state interference in the market as intrinsically a violation of human rights. For the state to interfere in labor markets with UBI is therefore profoundly immoral. And, since removing that negative sanctions of poverty (lower social status, practical exclusion from all the benefits of society, humiliation, deprivation, stunted growth and earlier death,) will damage the efficiency with which society carries on economic activities. Doesn’t bleeding heart libertarianism found itself upon the presumption that the unfettered activity of markets promotes economic growth, which is equivalent to human welfare?

  • stevenjohnson2

    UBI as near as I can see flies in the face of too many fundamental conservative principles, such as the natural inequality of people; the role of the state as the Scourge of God, punishing (or at least restraining) the wicked; the social order as the manifestation of God’s Will, displaying the rewards to and tests of the virtuous in contrast to the miseries meted out to and the opportunities of reformation neglected by the sinners. It is notoriously difficult to reconcile these notions with the world of facts, but by and large conservatism and religion are not committed to reason. Happily for these people, there are many, many philosophers and scientists who agree that there are limits to science and other ways of knowing. “Cheaters” are sinners, and wicked.

    I don’t really see that libertarianism of the bleeding heart variety I’ve seen here (I haven’t been watching that long, recent developments haven’t been marking fundamental changes, have they?) is committed to the project of refuting these fundamental premises from conservatism. Overall, it seems to me that libertarians are wholly committed to being part of the conservative movement on the basis of policy agreements, differing only in tending to accept purely rational arguments. To rephrase, the thing with UBI is that the fundamental arguments against are not purely rational. A policy disagreement between libertarians and conservatives over UBI in which libertarians will not challenge the arguments of the conservatives seems to me doomed as a matter of policy.

    This site is particularly committed to law and technical philosophy rather than economics. It seems to me that libertarian economic theory defines state interference in the market as intrinsically a violation of human rights. For the state to interfere in labor markets with UBI is therefore profoundly immoral. And, since removing that negative sanctions of poverty (lower social status, practical exclusion from all the benefits of society, humiliation, deprivation, stunted growth and earlier death,) will damage the efficiency with which society carries on economic activities. Doesn’t bleeding heart libertarianism found itself upon the presumption that the unfettered activity of markets promotes economic growth, which is equivalent to human welfare?

    • jtlevy

      ” Overall, it seems to me that libertarians are wholly committed to being part of the conservative movement on the basis of policy agreements, ”

      I don’t think there’s a single co-blogger here who would agree with that claim.

      • stevenjohnson2

        Are there any libertarians open enough to non-conservatives that they would even be Democrats? Formally libertarians and conservatives share very little in common but one policy they agree on is total opposition to progressives, socialists, communists. Libertarians are not even very much opposed to imperialists, even though imperialism has a bad enough reputation that only the giddiest conservatives like to boast of their imperial status.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          Let me put it this way, I am very cynical, I rarely even vote, but when I do it is usually for some conservative republican who at least sounds reasonably slightly libertarian. Now, I would gladly vote for a Democrat. but I can never find even one who is not such a raving big government supporter that they are opposite me on nearly every issue.

          If they start to moderate their party and the Republicans do not, then they could win a big portion of the libertarian vote as well as moderates. Likewise if the Republicans jettisoned some of their more immoderate social and foriegn policy views they could do the same.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Conservatives support Huge Government, as in huge prison populations, huge worldwide chain of military bases, huge police steamroller over civil rights of the people, huge support for Christianity, etc. All talk about small government that doesn’t honestly define big government is a swindle, whether it comes from a conscious perpetrator or a gullible victim.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            And you are guilty of painting with a very broad brush and using sweeping generalizations. Like I said the ones I do vote for have some libertarian leanings. Furthermore IMO the “right” right now do not pose as great a risk to our freedoms as does the “left” at this period in time.

        • Damien S.

          When I was libertarian I voted Libertarian, but between D and R I would have voted D in a heartbeat.

          William Stoddard has described voting Democratic, in part because he realized he viewed the Republicans as fundamentally uncivilized (IIRC), though Obamacare has since soured him. He’s also described voting on “throw the bums out”, which in CA would tend to mean voting Republican, but could mean Democratic at other times and places.

          I know self-styled libertarians who sound more like liberals with different priorities, namely they affirmed that they were fine with public schools and universal health care, but viewed the War on Some Drugs and US militarism as evils they didn’t want to be associated with, so they vote Libertarian. In a forced choice I imagine they’d pick Dem or Rep, because what would Reps have to offer them?

        • jtlevy

          I’ve twice voted for Democrats for major offices; I don’t think I’ve ever voted for a Republican for major office (Senator/ Governor/ President).

          • stevenjohnson2

            It’s hard to tell, but it appears that you’re going to be the only libertarian who would confess to supporting a Democrat whenever not being able to vote for a Libertarian candidate, despite the right-wing insistence that Democrats are the left. I suppose you are to be congratulated on your candor and flexibility.

            But I must admit that perhaps I am out of date and libertarians who strategically work within other parties with ballot status just don’t exist any more. If they did exist, the Democratic Party has sections that would be far more favorable to libertarian ideas on immigration, drugs policy, anti-imperialism. Yet I don’t know of any such activity, while I can see a business which freely mixes libertarian and Republican posters every election. (It may be anecdotal but that’s what gives it such an impact.) I’ve come to believe that it’s not an accident.

          • Damien S.

            You seem to have missed my reply. He’s hardly the only such libertarian.

          • stevenjohnson2

            I didn’t miss it but you’re such an outlier on the site’s commentariat it didn’t seem significant. I don’t know if that’s consoling or insulting.

    • David

      UBI as near as I can see flies in the face of too many fundamental conservative principles, such as the natural inequality of people

      I’m legitimately baffled here. UBI is a floor, not a ceiling. People in UBI land will still be unequal in all sorts of ways. I can’t how it violates “natural inequality of people” any more than, say, one person one vote.

      • stevenjohnson2

        The argument is very plain: Welfare and UBI and such limit the privileges earned by superior achievement and award the liberties therof to people whose inferior achievements did not merit them. All government intervention that alters the natural order of is an offense in this logic. UBI may not be as offensive as socialism, just as a flogging is not as dire a punishment as execution, but it doesn’t change the right-wing perception of such people as cheaters. Government favoritism to cheaters is tyranny.

        And one person one vote is most definitely not a universally admired principle amongst right wingers! “We live in a Republic, not a Democracy!” Bush v. Gore. The three fifths clause. Two senators per state.

        • M S

          Two questions:

          1. What do you believe the connection between “one person one vote,” the three-fifths clause, and the right wing to be?

          2. What was it about the representatives to the Constitutional Convention who came from the smaller Northern states that leads you to characterize them as more “right wing” than those that came from the larger Southern states?

          • stevenjohnson2

            1. The question is poorly formulated, as the right does not like “one person one vote.” (My citation of Bush v. Gore plainly reminds us of this context.) This version only sows confusion. Right wingers don’t like “one person one vote,” that ‘s precisely why “Republic not a Democracy!” is such a good identifier.

            Your genuine question is “How does the three fifths clause connect to the right wing?” The short answer is that the three fifths clause is an example of the Constitution rejecting the principle of “one person one vote.” Right wing legal ideology focuses on the original Constitution and avoids the later amendments for a reason. The longer answer also includes the right wing exaltation of states’ rights over human rights. And the insane idolatry of the Founding Fathers, who in some circles are more or less semidivine figures.

            2. Yes.

            I should leave it there because an equivocal question deserves an equivocal answer. But I’ll go ahead and ignore the rhetorical trickery. Slavery is gone and the constitution does not need to compromise democracy to preserve an outmoded class rule in some states. The primary reason for equal representation of states was not, as even the convention thought it would be, small vs. large, free vs. slave. Today, the unequal representation of states is favored by the right because it violates “one person one vote.”

          • Kevin

            That’s a misleading projection. I have never heard anyone on the right favor state-wise representation in the Senate “because it violates ‘one person one vote'”.

            Instead, they favor it because the federal government should primarily address inter-state issues rather than intra-state issues, and on intra-state issues “one person one vote” (where the bulk of voters are outside of the state) is immoral. A State-wise Senate provides a check on that sort of democratic tyranny.

            In other words, the moral legitimacy of “one person one vote” depends upon the voting group and the issues at vote. So, “one person one vote” is not being violated. Instead, you are misapplying it.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Odd that this should come back.

            Still, it’s true that one can be mistaken in attributing positions to vaguely defined groups. In my personal experience, I have heard right-wingers approve unequal representation of state populations (to be precise, I have been a little slovenly in my phrasing, sorry) because they think their votes should count for more than those in big cities. Anecdotal evidence is so vivid that it sways us more than it should.

            As to the reasoning you’ve cited? As is, unequal representation of state populations violates “one person one vote” for decisions in inter-state matters. On the face of it, the right does not favor the principle.

            As to intra-state matters, how is this relevant to the Federal Government? I’m guessing that some feel that the states themselves are entities with rights, but I must suggest this is a principle openly alternative to “one person one vote.” I’ve said that the right is against the principle, well, here they’re for States instead of people.

            But there is a “should” in your reply. I think there is a tacit assumption that the unequal representation of state populations is a defense against majority rule. I don’t really see how that’s not opposing “one person one vote.” You may label majority rule as “democratic tyranny,” but minority rule always has a better claim to the title of tyranny.

            The immorality of “one person one vote” when the bulk of the voters are “outside” depends on how you define outside, doesn’t it? The powers given by the interstate commerce clause are as extensive and pervasive as interstate commerce. Defining something as “intrastate” when they are not, in order to claim “democratic tyranny” is deception, I think.

          • Kevin

            The argument is not that their “votes should count for more than those in big cities”. It’s that small States should be able to live by different laws than big States, and each State has an equal part in the Senate in order to limit federal legislation that violates that right. Bear in mind that government is not how we cooperate together but rather how we coercively force one another.

            Yes, the moral applicability of “one person one vote” depends upon the issue at vote and the group, including what “outside” means. Your lack of an outside is analogous to giving adults worldwide a vote on US laws. After all, international commerce affects everyone. Or your own community voting on what your family will have for dinner.

            Opposing those scenarios is not violating “one person one vote” because that principle does not even apply to those cases. Similarly, violating a law is different than the law not being applicable to a given situation.

            Does everything which checks majority rule qualify as opposing “one person one vote”? Does the US Constitution? Does the functioning of the House? Do the multiple branches of government?

            The federal government increasingly legislates on intra-state matters, which is what makes them morally relevant. Your approval of the ridiculously expansive interpretation of the commerce clause suggests that you only see the US as a single State rather than as a federation of States and that you cannot abide or fail to see the value in protecting others’ right to live by different laws.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Let me repeat my concession that right wingers pronounce a principle of equality of states, rather than explicit hostility to “one person one vote,” and equality in general. I still think favoring a contrary principle is pretty much opposing another. This is particularly true for the zombie “principle” of states’ rights, refuted by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, if nothing else, as well as real world precedent. The United States is. The United States are….. not.

            Next, the answers to your questions. The fundamental principle justifying “one person one vote” is equality. Majority actions that violate the fundamental equality of persons contradicts themselves. Nor does such fulfill the function of government, which is to enable a population to live together in relative harmony. Checks on these violations do not oppose the principle.

            The US Constitution was written to enshrine inequality and therefore was indeed opposed. As amended, it does not uphold it very effectively I think. It needs reformation or possibly replacement.

            The functioning of the House? I’m not sure what you mean, possibly a typo for the Senate, which grossly violates equal representation of state populations?
            Plurality districts, imperfect equality in populations of districts, the committee system and other aspects of the House’s functioning may be held to be more or less ineffective in making “one person one vote” a reality. But it is not obvious to me how not being perfect is the same as being opposed to.

            Multiple branches of government are compatible with parliamentary supremacy and representative democracy. The whole issue for me is that “one person one vote” is a necessary condition for this to be true. The question I think is is wrongly phrased. Are multiple, competing institutions in the democratic branch incompatible
            with the fundamental principle? Fundamentally, yes, for the same kinds of reasons a collegial presidency would be incompatible with the executive principle.

            Your reply is objectionable for its first paragraph which persists in misrepresenting the issue as one of “small” states, when the historical origin was the so-called rights of slave states. Also, redefining government as “coercion” while forgetting this is equally true of state governments? You’ve strongly implied that you think “states” have rights more important than mere people.

            Your second paragraph is also objectionable for misrepresentation. If the citizens of Canada, for example, were sending representatives to DC, they should have equal representation, “one person one vote.” But they aren’t. Their outsideness is plainly marked by political boundaries. The magnitude of interstate commerce is not what justifies the existence of a national polity. The magnitude of interstate commerce is why the national polity needs to legislate on situations that did not exist originally.

            By the way, health inspections mean the community does legislate on what my family eats for dinner, when it’s commerce. The libertarian fetish for the markets attributes them all the attributes of divinity, but I don’t buy into omnipresence in all aspects of life. A ridiculously narrow interpretation of the commerce clause means you want to leave interstate commerce unregulated. You may define this as “freedom” but you do not have the right to impose your political theology.

            Lastly, the US is a single country, not a collection of countries. People in other states are not “others” but fellow citizens. All of us should have equal say in our common lives. Given interstate commerce in the form of movement of labor, aka people, there are issues that some would like to falsely define as intrastate, as a political tactic. Doesn’t make it true. States’ rights and unequal representation of state populations are no longer needed to protect slavery. It’s long past time to clear out the political deceits from that shameful epoch.

          • Kevin

            States are people, too. More specifically, a State represents people’s right to live under their own laws. State representation is the manifestation of that right within a federation of States, which is what the US government is. You can view that check as balancing “opposing” rights but it is not a violation of them.

            Majority actions that violate the fundamental equality of persons contradicts themselves.

            From where are you getting that? “one person one vote” says nothing about what happens if that vote compromises your definition of “equality”.

            Checks on these violations do not oppose the principle.

            Well, then why shouldn’t that include a check on violations of people’s equal right to live under their own laws in their own State? After all, they have far more representation in their own State than they do federally.

            “House” was not a typo; you ultimately inferred what I meant correctly. The imbalances of power within the House are not necessary. The House could be a pure majority rule or we could even have a direct democracy given technological advances if that is what “one person one vote” means to you.

            Are multiple, competing institutions in the democratic branch incompatible with the fundamental principle? Fundamentally, yes, for the same kinds of reasons a collegial presidency would be incompatible with the executive principle.

            The Executive branch is democratic insofar as it is elected. It also has a veto on legislation. Is that a violation of “one person one vote”? You seem to be making a nominal distinction rather than a substantive one.

            Canada is represented in the UN which votes on international issues. The EU’s federation is also analogous. US States do in fact have political boundaries. Those boundaries have just been repeatedly compromised to the point where you do not even conceive of the US as a federation of those political States.

            A ridiculously narrow interpretation of the commerce clause means you want to leave interstate commerce unregulated.

            No, it means that it only applies to _inter_-state commerce. At worst, regulation could still be implemented at the State level.

            You may define this as “freedom” but you do not have the right to impose your political theology.

            How is it possible that you are so blind as to invert who is imposing on who in this situation? You are clearly the one with the fetish of controlling how other people live their lives in other States.

            You are essentially eliminating federalism which was not invented to preserve slavery; it was invented to preserve individual rights.

          • stevenjohnson2

            The right to live under one’s own laws, in the sense you are using it, is an attribute of sovereignty. The US is not a federation of sovereign states. You don’t get to enslave a man or woman just because you live in a state with its own laws. You don’t like it, get in your time machine and go save the day at Gettysburg.

            The right wing only exalts states’ rights when it is apt to repress people they don’t like. Laws against recognizing gay marriage? Up the states. Drug law liberalization? Silence.Polygamy in Utah? States’ rights are somehow irrelevant. The UN General Assembly lives by the principle of equality of states, but right wingers do not give this any credit at all. (Justly so in this case I think, but no one can everything perfectly wrong, just as they can’t get everything perfectly right.)

            One irony that has escaped you is that the emphasis on state representation in Congress plays a substantial and continuing role in the overweening power of the Presidency. Since, according to your ilk, the state delegations represent the (dubious) sovereignty of the states, not the people, the only representative of the nation is the President. This is nonsense and you should be ashamed of propagating it. The gimcrack, Rube Goldberg machinery of checks and balances is worthless when the people operating the machinery are effectively stoned on political bullshit.

            The claim that US federalism wasn’t invented to preserve slavery but to preserve individual rights? Individual rights were literally an afterthought called the Bill of Rights.

            It’s not an accident that you don’t want to concede that the interstate commerce clause gives powers proportional to the magnitude of interstate commerce. That is simply common sense. Your problem is that you know how huge interstate commerce is but don’t want the federal government to exercise its constitutional function. The constitution forbids states to obstruct interstate commerce. Your nonchalant claim they can is absurd.

            My one vote wouldn’t control much of anything. The suggestion that I somehow am motivated by my ambition to dictate to others would just be nuts, if it didn’t so conveniently insinuate an ad hominem argument.

            Ordinarily I would answer the individual questions. But resorting to outright falsifications and blatant fallacies means you can’t be reasoned with.

          • Kevin

            I don’t know how much of this will help you since you think I’m resorting to outright falsifications, but I’ll give it one more shot.

            I agree with you about slavery. You keep appealing to that as though it is dispositive of states rights. It is not.

            The right to live under different laws is a moral right that can manifest as State sovereignty. There is some debate over US State sovereignty as a matter of degree. Obviously, federalism compromises State’s rights to some extent while also preserving it. It’s a mix. I’ve simply been explaining to you why the US founders created the Senate as a check and how that doesn’t violate equal representation.

            The Bill of Rights was very much at issue in the construction of the Constitution. It was a forethought. Many States ratified the Constitution with the understanding that a Bill of Rights would follow. In fact, the primary argument against including a Bill of Rights was that it was unnecessary and dangerous because the powers of the federal government were already enumerated and everything not listed was a right that could not be infringed. By listing the Bill of Rights, Hamilton argued, our rights would be limited to that list. That’s why 10A was included.

            You might consider reading the Federalist papers some time if you’d like to understand the rationale for our federal government.

            I don’t see how your indictments of right wing hypocrisy applies to my historical or moral arguments, and I don’t see the point of your rant about “the only representative of the nation is the President”. Are you saying that the Senate is to blame for the expansion of Executive power? In any case, I agree with you that Congress should act to reverse that.

            It’s not an accident that you don’t want to concede that the interstate commerce clause gives powers proportional to the magnitude of interstate commerce.

            Of course I would concede that. The question is, how do you define “interstate commerce”? A quintessential example is Wickard v. Filburn. Do you consider growing your own wheat for your own consumption to be “interstate commerce”? To me, that is clearly not “interstate” nor is it even “commerce”. That is what is at issue when we talk about the overly expansive Commerce Clause.

          • stevenjohnson2

            I believe the historical record firmly establishes the primary purpose of the constitutional convention was to create a national government with the necessary powers to defend the nation. It was not created to preserve personal rights. The Bill of Rights is a set of amendments instead of clauses in an article of the main body, because it was thought of after the main body of the constitution was written, created as a necessity for ratification. I still think your version is false.

            As you can tell, I’m not a libertarian. One reason is that I don’t see why libertarians cannot abide a principle of political equality. I disesteem the right wing rejection of equality and the bad arguments and impositions they use to justify them. It is not obvious to me that libertarianism logically requires its adherents to solidarize with this. The same bad arguments are no more believable in the mouths of libertarianism. Perhaps you should rethink your committment?

            The Whiskey Rebellion and the Embargo Act very early raised all the issues of personal and state freedom you may care to address. I think you will find that the sovereignty of states was not the defense of freedom you’ve claimed. So, yes, I do think that States’ Rights have pretty much always been connected to slavery and its heritage. Therefore I will continue believe the resolution of the slavery issue is dispositive of states’ rights.

            As for resisting executive power, insisting that the members of the House and Senate do not represent the nation obviously means insisting the only the President does. I don’t know why libertarians wouldn’t favor a fuller representation of the nation will than a kind of elective monarchy. Most people approve of their own representatives’ or senators’ performance, but I believe Congress as a whole is despised for representing parochial interests at the expense of the whole. And contrary to your insistence, the system doesn’t provide defense of personal freedoms either, and everybody who cares to know, knows it.

            Lastly, of course Wickard vs. Filburn is correct in assessing that a chicken rancher who is producing his own chicken feed is selling protein on the interstate market. It’s not practical to distinguish a chicken ranch which happens not to sell any meat out of state, given modern transportation. If the AAA couldn’t regulate this, it wouldn’t have the powers sufficient to regulate the obvious interstate commerce. But my personal commitment to equality includes equal protection of the laws, as per the 14th Amendment (one of those afterthoughts dedicated to reserving personal rights!) My opinion isn’t going to revise the US Code so I’m not worried about thinking it through deeply. Offhand, I don’t think Wickard flies.

          • Kevin

            Again, I can only suggest that you read the Federalist Papers which were written to promote ratification of the Constitution. Federalist No. 84 contains the bulk of Hamilton’s argument against the Bill of Rights which I paraphrased and which again is, ironically, an argument for individual rights.

            Individual rights were discussed at the Constitutional Convention and, as you admit, for many, a Bill of Rights was a necessity for ratification. i.e. no Bill of Rights, no ratification. That is not an afterthought.

            Of course, the Bill of Rights were not explicitly incorporated against the States at that time, but many States already had their own bill of rights from 1776. In fact, the US Bill of Rights was based on Virginia’s Declaration of Rights which also influenced the Declaration of Independence. This is more than a decade prior to the US Constitution. So, once again, individual rights are clearly not an afterthought.

            Equality under the law is a great virtue that is notably a constraint upon the government and not the people. Forcing other forms of equality upon people is morally problematic, due to the use of force, having to define what “equal” means, and negative side-effects. Obviously, we are not all equal, so the question is, what specific aspects do you want to force to be equal?

            How is the Whiskey Rebellion and the Embargo Act related to slavery? They were idiotic, but alas, they are reasonably supported by the Constitution. If anything, they are good cautionary tales against federal power, so I don’t understand how you are using them to oppose State sovereignty.

            I do believe the House represents the nation. The Senate also represents the nation, just in a different way that respects people’s chosen State. I oppose an elective monarchy. And I agree that the system does not sufficiently protect individual liberty. I don’t know what I said to make you think I believed otherwise.

            If the AAA couldn’t regulate this, it wouldn’t have the powers sufficient to regulate the obvious interstate commerce.

            I assume you meant USA. I disagree entirely. The US would still clearly have the power to regulate commerce that involved actual trades across State lines.

            Yes, the 14A certainly was an afterthought — almost a century later afterthought. This one actually is related to slavery and limiting State’s rights. Equal Protection was later reverse incorporated against the federal government, but how would that apply to Wickard? The US was controlling wheat equally nationwide.

            In any case, I’m glad you don’t think Wickard flies, whatever your reasons.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Historically, the only eminent proponent of states’ rights who liked the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson. I think we can safely attribute that to vanity. The Bill of Rights was intended to assuage some of the antifederalists, who correctly perceived that the purpose of the whole project was to create a more powerful national government. Yet you have claimed that it was the federalists who devised the Constitution to preserve personal rights. Pointing to their concession to their opponents does not show what you think.

            The federalists were motivated by the weakness of the country. In the sense that the people’s freedom is also their power to accomplish their needs, a more powerful government advanced the cause of freedom. But that seems to me to be a principle which libertarians refuse to accept, by definition.

            The Constitution always had a problematic relationship to the people’s freedoms. I believe that many hoped that the national government could gently increase freedom by leading the states towards manhood suffrage, free churches instead of state churches and abolition of slavery. About the only personal right it guaranteed in the body of the Constitution itself was the right to a republican form of government. Very bold of them! Nonetheless, it was compatible with many infringements of personal rights by virtue of the considerable powers left to the states versus the rather limited set of guarantees added afterwards. The fundamental reason of course was the difficulties raised by slavery against any project for liberty.

            Also, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are state documents. The Federalist Papers are not. They are not even sound evidence as to original intent. The constitutional convention desired that be kept secret. The solemn invocation of the Federalst Papers are pretty symptomatic of a falsified view of history. But perhaps “mythologized” can convey the meaning without being offensive? I don’t mean to be personally offensive, but I must persist in believing the version of history you’ve been assuming is as untrue as it is tendentious.

            Now, briefly, your questions.

            Equality under the law is not a notable constraint upon government and it also depends upon the use of force. I call upon the ghosts of Charles Stuart and Louis Capet to testify to this. Loaded questions don’t deserve answers.

            The Whiskey Rebellion and the Embargo Act early demonstrated that your mythical Constitution dedicated to preserving personal rights (and States’ Rights too, very clever of them!) was not what you’ve misrepresented it to be. You call them cautionary tales yet you yourself admit these actions were constitutional. It’s true these have nothing particularly to do with slavery, except that States’ Rights historically have only mattered in connection to slavery and its consequences.

            I did mean the AAA. It is hard to see how the AAA approach to economic relief of wheat farmers by restricting production doesn’t single out wheat farmers at the expense of the general population. Income supports for all, including wheat farmers, or price supports for the general market which everyone can use, maybe. I’m not that interested in this case, but at a glance there are also due process issues in dealing with violations of economic regulations where you cannot name the victims individually, too. The general principle that government is a freedom only when it works to achieve general aims argues against the AAA.

            But arguing against Wickard about interstate commerce? The Wickard decision was plainly correct in that allowing farmers to engage in commercial wheat production so long as they avoided openly taking wheat across state lines would have made the AAA unenforceable. Arguing the interstate commerce clause instead of 14th amendment seems to me purely a necessity imposed by hostility to the equality and personal rights granted by that amendment. The whole thing is analogous to the loons who argue eminent domain cases by attacking eminent domain instead of arguing public use.

          • Kevin

            The Bill of Rights was intended to assuage some of the antifederalists, who correctly perceived that the purpose of the whole project was to create a more powerful national government. Yet you have claimed that it was the federalists who devised the Constitution to preserve personal rights.

            Not quite. I was not comparing federalists to anti-federalists. Obviously, the federalists wanted to expand the power of the federal government beyond the Articles of Confederation, but that was not the question. The question was whether individual rights were an afterthought. Both sides were interested in individual rights.

            Nonetheless, it was compatible with many infringements of personal rights by virtue of the considerable powers left to the states versus the rather limited set of guarantees added afterwards.

            It was not supposed to directly govern individuals in the way you keep insinuating. It was a federation of States with enumerated powers. Again, look at Virginia if you want a more complete government that includes a list of personal rights.

            Also, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are state documents. The Federalist Papers are not. They are not even sound evidence as to original intent.

            I’m not using them to determine original intent, as for interpreting the Constitution. I’m using them as evidence that personal rights were not an afterthought, and for that purpose they are certainly sound evidence. You evade the issue with tangential facts.

            Equality under the law is not a notable constraint upon government and it also depends upon the use of force. I call upon the ghosts of Charles Stuart and Louis Capet to testify to this.

            How do those examples testify that equality under the law is not a constraint upon government?

            The Whiskey Rebellion and the Embargo Act early demonstrated that your mythical Constitution dedicated to preserving personal rights (and States’ Rights too, very clever of them!) was not what you’ve misrepresented it to be. You call them cautionary tales yet you yourself admit these actions were constitutional.

            I see, so when you say “personal rights” you are predominantly focused on the federal government’s powers over foreign trade and excise taxation?

            I did mean the AAA.

            My mistake, thank you.

            It is hard to see how the AAA approach to economic relief of wheat farmers by restricting production doesn’t single out wheat farmers at the expense of the general population. Income supports for all, including wheat farmers, or price supports for the general market which everyone can use, maybe.

            I see, it fails your rational basis test. That’s funny because they were trying to control wheat market fluctuations. Granted, that’s a bad idea, but controlling the general market is even worse.

            But arguing against Wickard about interstate commerce? The Wickard decision was plainly correct in that allowing farmers to engage in commercial wheat production so long as they avoided openly taking wheat across state lines would have made the AAA unenforceable.

            What kind of reasoning is that? The unenforceability of a law is no excuse to change the plain meaning of the Constitution.

  • stevenjohnson2

    UBI as near as I can see flies in the face of too many fundamental conservative principles, such as the natural inequality of people; the role of the state as the Scourge of God, punishing (or at least restraining) the wicked; the social order as the manifestation of God’s Will, displaying the rewards to and tests of the virtuous in contrast to the miseries meted out to and the opportunities of reformation neglected by the sinners. It is notoriously difficult to reconcile these notions with the world of facts, but by and large conservatism and religion are not committed to reason. Happily for these people, there are many, many philosophers and scientists who agree that there are limits to science and other ways of knowing. “Cheaters” are sinners, and wicked.

    I don’t really see that libertarianism of the bleeding heart variety I’ve seen here (I haven’t been watching that long, recent developments haven’t been marking fundamental changes, have they?) is committed to the project of refuting these fundamental premises from conservatism. Overall, it seems to me that libertarians are wholly committed to being part of the conservative movement on the basis of policy agreements, differing only in tending to accept purely rational arguments. To rephrase, the thing with UBI is that the fundamental arguments against are not purely rational. A policy disagreement between libertarians and conservatives over UBI in which libertarians will not challenge the arguments of the conservatives seems to me doomed as a matter of policy.

    This site is particularly committed to law and technical philosophy rather than economics. It seems to me that libertarian economic theory defines state interference in the market as intrinsically a violation of human rights. For the state to interfere in labor markets with UBI is therefore profoundly immoral. And, since removing that negative sanctions of poverty (lower social status, practical exclusion from all the benefits of society, humiliation, deprivation, stunted growth and earlier death,) will damage the efficiency with which society carries on economic activities. Doesn’t bleeding heart libertarianism found itself upon the presumption that the unfettered activity of markets promotes economic growth, which is equivalent to human welfare?

  • famadeo

    I like the principle behind UBI, but in a market economy I can’t help suspect it would become superfluous in the long run. What does it matter to earn an annual 10G’s if fluctuations can make the cost of living higher? You get the same problems you have without it.

    The issue regarding orthodox hysteria over something to the effect of: “why should a bum earn X while I work my hand to the bone and makes the same (or less, or slightly more, etc.)?”… I’d simply ask: why should one’s right to the air he breathes depend on one’s performance in the market if it doesn’t occur at anyone’s expense? The right to material resources (water, land, etc.) should be out of anyone’s question for the same reason that air is.

    • J-Lib

      @famadeo: “fluctuations”– chief among them being, price of land for dwelling, working, even playing. The Law of Rent, it’s called. As it happens, geolibertarian policy would both turn the Law of Rent to social (rather than selective) good, tame those fluctuations, while at the same time, also yielding a UBI if communities chose to use it that way.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    although I have given UBI tepid support in the past, I just think there are better ways to accomplish the same goals. I mentioned them in the comments section of that post on Cafe Hayek.

  • Damien S.

    I try to point out to leftist advocates of unconditional full basic income that I don’t see how it will pass an electorate that has yet to try for full employment policies. Why pay people not to work when you could pay them to work instead? And I worry more about the disincentive to work than most of them do.

    OTOH partial basic income — that isn’t enough to live even frugally on, by most standards — can still work to reduce inequality and alleviate the worst economic misery. Cf. Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividend, and AFAIK there’s no pressure to conditionalize payments from that. But an income funded by taxes on natural resources or by a sovereign wealth fund might be more robust than an income funded by general revenue/income tax.

    • “But an income funded by taxes on natural resources or by a sovereign wealth fund might be more robust than an income funded by general revenue/income tax.” Yes, exactly, because income from those sources is less perceived to be a case of taking from X to benefit Y. Such income is perceived more as a bounty in which we all have an equal share, because it is based on a return from public resources and/or as compensation for potential harm resulting from private exploitation of those resources.

      It would be nice if the US could establish a sovereign wealth fund along the lines of the Alaska Permanent Fund. However I think it is very unlikely. I suspect the Alaska Permanent Fund was successful because it was created at a time when major Alaskan oil drilling had just started and I presume that oil companies were still perceived as “outsiders” as far as both Alaska voters and politicians were concerned. However in the US the oil and mining industries have long been politically favored, and I doubt we’ll see any schemes that would greatly increase their taxes or royalties to create an Alaska-style fund.

      “AFAIK there’s no pressure to conditionalize payments from [the Alaska Permanent Fund].” Apparently the only condition is that you have to be a permanent Alaska resident residing in the state at least a year, and not a convicted felon.

      • J-Lib

        @Frank: while I think the APF kind of goes in the right direction, i’m not really for “sovereign [state] wealth funds” as for sovereign citizen funds — i.e. gimme what’s due to me and I’ll invest it as I see fit. (and/or, invest in my local community according to its needs.)
        So i’d have the state levy resource and site rents on all land, also extraction royalties; therewith, pay for (ideally) minarchist government; i’d then distribute any surplus funds as a dividend to citizen-shareholders. They can do their own investing.
        By the way, i’d expect such a scheme to help us achieve the needed govt downsizing as it renders so much “social service”, “criminal justice” and other machinery totally unnecessary. The socialization of the land rents actually creates the level field on which a free market could actually operate and survive.

  • David

    To put it a slightly different way, there’s a tendency to be skeptical of government’s ability to do things properly and fairly, and a human, all-too-human tendency to relax that worry when imagining government doing exactly what, by your lights, it should be doing. This isn’t a specifically libertarian pathology, of course, but libertarians are obviously not immune.

  • Fabio Cecin

    Governments impose unconditional taxes (Death & Taxes …) even on those who are “bad” for whatever measure of “bad”. Why is it suddenly wrong for governments to grant unconditional income, including for “bad “people?

    If one already tolerate governments (including the usual multinational corporation gunk that gathers around them sucking most of your taxes) then UBI doesn’t change squat for them in terms of “hey I’m paying for these people who do nothing over there!” Paying for another guy to scratch his balls is nothing compared to Wall Street and armies of professional bloodsuckers already on the dole.

  • Unconditionality in the sense of paying a basic income to all people is indeed not sustainable in the current state of the economy. Hence, the LIVING Income Guaranteed promoters are explicitly for of a CONDITIONAL basic income i.e. a living Income for those who are in need of support. You can read upon our PROPOSAL here http://www.scribd.com/doc/182616757/The-Living-Income-Guaranteed-Proposal Realise here that within providing the Living Income Guaranteed to those who need it there are NO conditions attached, it is given unconditionally.

    For a human perspective on Life consider that the Test that stand before Man is: will you be able to give to all equally? Will you be equal?

  • J-Lib

    f you’re going to advocate a UBI, these considerations are paramount:

    1) if firmly grounded in some universal human right (such as the right to life or liberty) then it becomes simply a human entitlement — like the right to breathe air or be somewhere on the planet.

    2) economically, it should be derived from a fund that is of either natural or collective origin, rather than targeting the productive effort of individuals. 

    This is in fact what a geolibertarian system (free enterprise based on economic sharing of nature via land- value “tax,” rental fee, or similar mechanism in lieu of destructive taxes) would accomplish. 

    In fact, while a UBI would probably be feasible under geolibertarianism, the first and most important results would be full employment and higher wages. Taxing away the profits of land speculation short-circuits this anti-productive activity and leaves more wealth in the hands of labor and capital.

    Therefore, a UBI very well might not be necessary. But it is a nice added selling point to overcome purely political and inertia-based objections to a geolibertarian policy.

    Some less-libertarian Georgists want to see all the rent income to be plowed back into expanding /”improving” government services. Geolibertarians tend to advocate investing less in the state and more in people and households, vis either a UBI or — a rough equivalent — a Universal Individual Exemption, i.e. a homestead-type exemption below which no one pays any land rental (besides which, all other taxes of whatever kind at whatever level will have been abolished as well)

    I personally could go with either the UBI, UIE, or a or a little of both.

    It’s important to realize that this land rent funding mechanism is primarily within State, not federal authority since that is where the bulk of populated land resides in this country. No one would ever pay anything to the fedgov under this system, unless using federal lands, waters or holding a license on radio spectrum.
    The bulk of revenue generation power would revert to the States and the bulk of the work would be done by local jurisdictions, simply by retooling the current property tax to land-value-only, and simultaneously sunsetting all taxes on production and exchange.

    No additional tax or payment would exist except voluntary user fees for elective services. (Really, the land rental is a voluntary user fee as well, since where one decides to hold land is a voluntary choice.)

    It’s a shame Fred Foldvary got too busy to continue contributing here. 
    He had a piece on the geolibertarian ethic back in 2012.

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