Daniel Shapiro – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:16:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png Daniel Shapiro – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 Virtue and the Limits of Knowledge http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/07/virtue-and-the-limits-of-knowledge/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/07/virtue-and-the-limits-of-knowledge/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 00:54:21 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10833 I’m glad we are having this discussion about virtue and libertarianism. In general outline, I’m fine with the general thesis Sorens and Ruger propound that virtue and liberty are compatible...

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I’m glad we are having this discussion about virtue and libertarianism. In general outline, I’m fine with the general thesis Sorens and Ruger propound that virtue and liberty are compatible and synergistic. But I don’t see how they can claim to know that the activities they say are incompatible with virtue or living a good life are in fact that.

Since Sorens and Ruger say that libertarians have the “unfortunate reputation of focusing on drugs and sex”[1]— thank goodness, rock and roll wasn’t on the list—let’s focus on those activities.

Sorens and Ruger make the following claims:

  1. “As a rule, acting in porn trades one’s dignity for money”
  2. “Purely recreational or commercial sex skews the important pair-bonding, psychological functions of sex…”

So I have a simple question: how do they know this? Can they provide good evidence?[2] What concerns me is the one example they give regarding claims 1 and 2—porn star Belle Knox—does nothing to support those claims. At one point in what we hope is a long life, she did pornography (as I understand it, rape video fantasies) to make her way through college. Did this trade her dignity for money? Where’s the reliable evidence? In response to Steve Horwitz, they concede that “there might be circumstances that justify her decision” (my emphasis). But what we need here are reliable probability judgments about what’s the rule here (about porn, sex work, and dignity) and what’s the exception to the rule. More specifically, we would need to know (a) whether someone like Belle Knox who does porn for a short period of time for financial reasons will look back and correctly judge that her dignity was traded away and (b) that those who do porn or are sex workers for significant periods of time will make the same kind of judgment. It is beyond me how Sorens and Ruger could have the very particularized evidence for (a). (B) may be true, but again, we need evidence.

I turn now to drug use, I topic I think I know something about, but I will let others judge my work[3] and the work of those who influenced me. (See in particular, Jacob Sullum’s excellent book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use (Tarcher-Perigree, 2004)

Forgot about marijuana, that’s a soft and easy case. Let’s take heroin 🙂 (Sorry, couldn’t resist the joke. I do it every year in Current Moral Problems.) Is using heroin moderately (or perhaps even being an addict when it’s legal, safe, and cheap[4]) in general at odds with being virtuous? If you are sure, check the evidence (or as Ayn Rand said often, check your premises) on moderate heroin use and heroin addicts by looking at Sullum’s book and my article on mandatory drug testing. Look at Edward Brecher’s Licit and Illicit Drugs (Little and Brown, 1973) about eminent heroin addicts. Or look at John Kaplan’s The Hardest Drug (University of Chicago, 1983) And Norman Zinberg’s Drugs, Set, and Setting (Yale University Press, 1986). My point here is that Soren and Ruger seem to me to violate the epistemic virtue of humility. There are clearly two excesses here: being too judgmental (think of Ayn Rand “judge and be prepared to be judged”) and refusing to judge others (“let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”)[5] My concern is that even though Sorens and Ruger are correct to criticize libertarians that are libertines, they seem too judgmental.

[1] By the way, are Sorens and Rugers talking about illegal drugs? All drugs? This is not a pedantic point. Labeling substances that we disapprove of us as not drugs (consider the bizarre distinction between “drugs and alcohol”)-and things we don’t approve of as “drugs” has help enable what in my view is one of the most destructive policies in the past century, the “War on Drugs.”

[2] In the part of claim 2 that follows the ellipsis, Ruger and Sorens say “and can risk one’s self-respect, not to mention overall flourishing.” No reasonable person, of course, would disagree with the “can” claim.

[3] See “Against Mandatory Drug Testing,” in Drugs, Morality, and the Law ed. Curtis Brown and Steven Luper-Foy (Garland Publishers, 1994), pp. 301-17,” Smoking Tobacco: Irrationality, Addiction, and Paternalism,” Public Affairs Quarterly, (April 1994), pp. 187-203, and “Addiction and Drug Policy,” in Disputed Moral Issues ed. Mark Timmons (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp.155-60 [also in a number of other Current Moral Problem anthologies]

[4] I strongly suspect being a heroin addict is difficult to do while living a good life (and I say so in class when I teach this subject). But I could be wrong. I am pretty sure based on the evidence available to me, that moderate use of opiates is quite compatible with living a good life. How do I know? Because it’s been done in various cultures.

[5] I’m ignorant about the context of this quote. Hey, I was raised an atheist Jew, forgive me 🙂

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What is “the welfare state?” Thoughts on Matt Zwolinski’s recent post http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/03/what-is-the-welfare-state-thoughts-on-matt-zwolinskis-recent-post/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/03/what-is-the-welfare-state-thoughts-on-matt-zwolinskis-recent-post/#comments Wed, 16 Mar 2016 13:22:03 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10491 Matt Zwolinski recently argued that opposition to the welfare state is not an essential feature of classical liberalism or libertarianism. He did so by making a libertarian case for state...

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Matt Zwolinski recently argued that opposition to the welfare state is not an essential feature of classical liberalism or libertarianism. He did so by making a libertarian case for state aid to the poor, or state welfare. He also cited posts by Jacob Levy and Jason Brennan as buttressing his view that libertarianism need not oppose the welfare state or that there is a libertarian case for the welfare state.

In order to see whether Matt is right, we have to ask: what do we mean by the welfare state? If we are defining the welfare state in terms of its institutions, then the welfare state is often defined as consisting, at least in large part, of two kinds of programs. First, there are social insurance programs, such as government financed and administered retirement pensions, health insurance, and unemployment insurance—universal or near universal programs that are awarded regardless of the recipients’ income or wealth.[1] Second, there is state aid to the poor or less affluent, which of course is means tested and not universal. More importantly, most of the welfare state is not devoted to state aid to the poor but to social insurance programs. The budgets of virtually all welfare states are dominated by spending on retirement and health care, which is far greater than spending on means or income tested programs. In this regard, the phrase “the welfare state” may be a misnomer, since most of welfare state programs are not about welfare in the sense of redistribution from the more affluent to the less affluent. We are stuck with the term, but I suspect the use of it is making the debate about libertarianism and the welfare state less clear that it could be.

So if Matt is right that there is a solid classical liberal/libertarian case for state welfare that doesn’t mean that there is such a case for the welfare state—since state welfare is not equivalent to the welfare state, and is the less important part of it. The best way, I think, to conceptualize Matt’s argument is that there is a solid classical liberal/libertarian case for a kind of ‘welfare state’ that at present exists nowhere-one focused solely on state welfare (either as poor relief or perhaps as restitution for past injustices.) Nowhere does Matt suggest that there is a solid classical liberal/libertarian case for social insurance programs—and for good reason, for in my view, that case is nonexistent. In my Is The Welfare State Justified? (Cambridge University Press, 2007) I argued that there is no such case even within mainstream (nonlibertarian) perspectives in political philosophy.

What about Jason and Jacob’s posts? Jason makes the case that what he calls the administrative state–regulations which attempt to control, manipulate, and regulate the economy—are more of a threat to liberty than the welfare state, by arguing that (some) Nordic welfare states which are lighter on the administrative state than, e.g., the USA, score higher on the Economic Freedom Index. But that argument is also not a defense of the welfare state. It is an argument that if you have a welfare state, it’s better to have one that isn’t combined with a heavy handed administrative state. It’s not an argument, for example, that libertarians should prefer, e.g., Denmark over a society which had a lighter administrative state and market based alternatives to social insurance.

As for Jacob’s post, he argues that “in a world characterized by massive state action of all sorts, most of which does nothing to alleviate poverty and a great deal of which is actively regressive or harmful to the worst-off,” classical liberals/libertarians should not think that their main task is to argue against state aid to the poor (and he suggests one could get that impression from reading Nozick’s arguments contra Rawls). That is also not a defense of the welfare state—it’s an argument that libertarians should have more important priorities than focusing on state welfare.

So is opposition to the welfare state an essential feature of classical liberalism/libertarianism? In my view, yes, in that we have solid arguments against social insurance programs and in favor of market based alternatives. But in the context of this post, my views are not important. What is important is that nothing Matt said in his post (or that Jason or Jacob said in theirs) suggests otherwise.

[1]. One might object to calling programs like Social Security and National Health Care social ‘insurance,’ since these kind of programs differ from market insurance in three salient ways. Social insurance is compulsory, not voluntary; second, rates are not determined by actuarial considerations (beneficiaries are not charged on the basis of expected risk, the raison d’être of market insurance); third, because competition is absent or significantly restricted, consumers have little or limited choice of types of policies or benefits.

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Pricing Water http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/04/pricing-water/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/04/pricing-water/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 23:55:38 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=9110 Many of this blog’s readers are familiar with Econtalk, and I want to recommend a terrific recent episode on the importance of not underpricing water with economist David Zetland. It...

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Many of this blog’s readers are familiar with Econtalk, and I want to recommend a terrific recent episode on the importance of not underpricing water with economist David Zetland. It is an extremely common practice to price water below—sometimes way below—its market price, which means, of course, that demand outstrips the supply. The consequences of this in affluent countries such as the US include environmental damage—e.g., in some parts of California aquifers are being drained in an unsustainable way, rivers are drained, and entire lakes are drained—and encouragement of sprawl, since new communities tend not to pay the cost of their additional demand. (Some people prefer ‘sprawl’, of course, but what is at issue is whether that preference would change if new communities had to pay the cost of their additional water demand.)

What I found most eye-opening was the consequences in undeveloped countries, where the subsidization of water is more pronounced. Here’s a quote from the transcript: “[A] typical situation in India for example is that the price of water is set very low. And so there’s no revenue to the utility. They are only going to provide water to the core of the urban area, not to the periphery or to the slums. And then they only provide it a certain number of hours per day. That’s kind of a typical scenario for a developing country. What happens then is that people are going to have those tanks [cisterns to store water when the tap is off]; they are going to have suction pumps that they drop into the mains that will try and suck out as much water as is there when it’s around. This tends to create negative pressure, which sucks in sewage from all the cracks in the mains, which are next to the sewage lines if you have sewage. So they have contamination; they’ve got all kinds of problems of supply. And that is, as far as I’m concerned, directly related to the government putting a price limit on water, because they think it’s the proper way to help poor people.”

Price controls often hurt the very people they are supposed to help. One thing I learned from the Zetland podcast is that price controls on water may be one of the most pernicious forms of price controls, particularly in undeveloped countries. Or to put the point more positively, proper pricing of water is a reform that would be of enormous benefit to many of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

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After listening to the podcast, I plan to buy Zetland’s book, Living With Water Scarcity. Russ Roberts gives a lovely quote from the book defending pricing of water to cover all of its costs: “Prices generate revenues and reduce demand, but they also give customers choices. A regulation on outdoor watering may annoy a granny with flowers. A desalination plant may annoy environmentalists. An education campaign is condescending to some and a waste of breath on others. A campaign to install low-flow toilets may install sparkling receptacles in unused second bathrooms. Prices send a direct signal at the same time as they accommodate many responses. Customers can choose their own mix of technologies and techniques. Some will take shorter showers. Others will install drip irrigation. Some will shower at work. Others will just pay more. A higher price for water, like a higher price for any commodity, allows people to choose how much water to use. Choice is a pleasant option compared to water shortages or tickets from water cops.”

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Some links and podcasts of interest http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/09/some-links-and-podcasts-of-interest/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/09/some-links-and-podcasts-of-interest/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 01:37:03 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8629 Some links: John Hasnas, “Is There a Moral Duty to Obey the Law?” Social Philosophy and Policy Vol. 30, Winter 2013. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&pdftype=1&fid=9167194&jid=SOY&volumeId=30&issueId=1-2&aid=9167191 Hasnas says that “For most of my intellectual...

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Some links:

John Hasnas, “Is There a Moral Duty to Obey the Law?” Social Philosophy and Policy Vol. 30, Winter 2013. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&pdftype=1&fid=9167194&jid=SOY&volumeId=30&issueId=1-2&aid=9167191

Hasnas says that “For most of my intellectual life, I have held a strong belief that there is no moral duty to obey the law. Recent reflection has led me to question my conviction on this matter.” Hasnas argues that there is a moral obligation to obey the law in customary/common law systems. Hasnas’ argument for an obligation to obey the law does not justify political obligation—an obligation to conform one’s behavior to the dictate of one’s government. Indeed, an implication of his argument is that a moral obligation to obey the law is compatible with anarchy.

Chad Van Schoelandt “Markets, Community, and Pluralism,” The Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 65, January 2014. http://pq.oxfordjournals.org/content/64/254/144.full.pdf+html

Van Schoelandt critically assesses G.A. Cohen’s objections to markets in Why Not Socialism? He argues that Cohen’s objections presupposes a stilted view of community that is at odds with pluralism and that his understanding of the motives of market participants is too simple. Markets generate socially cooperative norms and trust. Van Schoelandt arguments here are complementary with Jason Brennan’s arguments in Why Not Capitalism?

Baylen Linnekin “Raise a Glass: The Bill of Rights Was About Food Freedom,” http://reason.com/archives/2014/09/25/food-freedom-and-the-225th-anniversary-o

An interesting argument that the source of a number of the Bill of Rights were about the colonists struggle with Great Britain over “food freedom.”

Podcasts:

This summer Russ Roberts at Econtalk had a number of discussions on the sharing economy:

Michael Munger On the Sharing Economy http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2014/07/michael_munger.html

Nathan Blecharczyk on Airbnb and the Sharing Economy http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2014/09/nathan_blecharc.html

And although the Podcast listed below has nothing to do with political philosophy per se, I recommend it because it is so moving and profound.

D.G. Myers on Cancer, Dying and Living. Myers is a literary critic who was dying of cancer and he and Russ talked about the importance of opportunity cost the most precious resource of all, our time. Myers died on September 26, 2014.

http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2014/07/dg_myers_on_can.html

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Mark LeBar on Justice as a Virtue http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/06/mark-lebar-on-justice-as-a-virtue/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/06/mark-lebar-on-justice-as-a-virtue/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 00:17:16 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8091 Here is an intellectual feast: a Podcast interview with Mark LeBar, at Free Thoughts, on the virtue of justice.  In one hour you get an in-depth historical discussion of how...

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Here is an intellectual feast: a Podcast interview with Mark LeBar, at Free Thoughts, on the virtue of justice.  In one hour you get an in-depth historical discussion of how different philosophers have understood this virtue.

Of particular interest to our readers, while LeBar doesn’t explicitly talk about social justice, his discussion toward the end of the podcast suggests a skepticism about any notion of social justice that isn’t reducible to the just conduct of individuals.

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Will Private Charity Be Enough? http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/12/will-private-charity-be-enough/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/12/will-private-charity-be-enough/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 17:27:45 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=7154 Matt Zwolinski recently discussed arguments for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) at BHL and Libertarianism.org.  One of those arguments was that a BIG might be required on libertarian grounds because...

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Matt Zwolinski recently discussed arguments for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) at BHL and Libertarianism.org.  One of those arguments was that a BIG might be required on libertarian grounds because private charity will be insufficient. However, there are good reasons to believe that private charity will not be insufficient. For those interested in a longer version of the arguments I set out here, see my Is the Welfare State Justified? (Cambridge University Press, 2007) chapter 6, section 6. (An earlier version is “Egalitarianism and Welfare State Redistribution,” available here)

1.    What does “enough” mean?

One thing it doesn’t mean is that the amount of private aid must be equal to the amount presently spent on state welfare. As Matt noted in his post, state welfare programs are an inefficient, byzantine mess. Private charities will be far more efficient than state welfare, and thus will not have to match the quantity of state welfare.

The reasons for this comparative efficiency are no doubt familiar to readers of this blog. Private charities have more freedom than state welfare programs to treat those receiving aid as individuals and to target their aid to specific groups with very specific problems. They are superior in their ability to change policies if need be, since they have to jump through fewer hoops or go through fewer intermediaries than a political system does in order to try a new approach. Private charities are superior to state welfare systems in evaluating and obtaining information about whether its goals are being met. It is easier to determine how a policy is working when it is for a small, specific group rather than for a larger, heterogeneous group. Furthermore, private charities are more closely monitored than state welfare programs; voluntary donors have a stronger incentive to evaluate the charities they fund than rationally ignorant voters have to monitor the programs they are taxed to support.

Not only are private charities more efficient than state welfare, but in a libertarian society it is less likely charity will be needed, since that society will lack  barriers to the poor’s advancement that exist in our crony capitalist or interventionist economic system–occupational licensure, minimum wage laws, zoning laws, oppressive levels of taxation, etc.

But if private charities need not match the quantity of state funds for the former to be ‘enough’ or falsify the claim of ‘insufficiency,’ what should enough mean? Since to be a BHL means, roughly, that a central justification for libertarianism is that it is good for or serves the interests of the poor and vulnerable, then private charities would fail to be enough if they didn’t do that. Of course that’s vague, but at the very least we would know private charities were insufficient if the amount provided were so stingy that would enormous suffering would occur—widespread malnutrition, large numbers of people without shelter, etc.

2.    Empirical considerations

At first glance, it might appear that there is no empirical evidence to evaluate a claim of insufficiency, since even in the US and the UK, there was never a period when state welfare was completely absent or abolished. However, the US in the late nineteenth century provides us with something very close to a natural experiment for testing the claim that private charity would be insufficient absent state welfare, because from the mid-1870s until around the turn of the century, unconditional aid to able-bodied needy people—“outdoor relief,” as it was called—was either abolished or curtailed drastically in large, and some medium-sized, cities. Since organized charities kept fairly detailed records of their activities, we can see whether the claim that private charity alone would be insufficient is historically accurate. It does not appear to be. In almost all of the relevant cities, private giving rose to the occasion, and the amount contributed was roughly comparable to the amount given by outdoor relief.

Of course, that individuals seem to have risen to the occasion a century ago does not prove that this would occur today. However, there is a more general argument that explains why the results of the late-nineteenth century United States should not be too surprising. Government welfare tends to crowd out private giving; so when government welfare is (nearly) abolished, we should expect crowding in, that is, people react to the absence of government welfare by increasing their donations. And that’s what appears to have happened.

A natural response to this argument is that we cannot rely on crowding in. Even if it is plausible that the abolition of state welfare would increase donations, the increase may not be sufficient in today’s circumstances. True, it may not be. The question, though, is this: if history does not support a claim of insufficiency, and if the crowding-out that occurs because of state welfare suggests that some crowding-in will occur when such welfare is absent, why think that private charity will be insufficient? Now we are at the point where we can look at the argument Matt cited for the insufficiency claim, which is from chapter 9 of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom:  “[W]e might all of us be prepared to contribute to the relief of poverty, provided everyone else did. We might not contribute the same amount without such assurance.”

3.    Public good arguments

David Friedman, in his reply to Matt, describes the argument of his father as follows: “charity faces a public good problem.” Strictly speaking, his father does not say that in the passage Matt quotes: what Milton Friedman argues is that contributing to charity (relief of poverty) faces an assurance problem. To show the existence of a public goods problem one has to show, first, that there is a genuine public good, and second, that voluntary provision of this good means it will be underfunded. The usual way of showing the latter is to argue that because of free rider and assurance problems, not contributing to the funding of these goods is a dominant strategy.

At first glance, voluntary provision of charity is a terrible candidate for a public good. A public good is nonexcludable and jointly consumed. But if what one values is one’s own contribution to charity and the benefits that accompany this (the psychological benefits from helping others, the sense that one did the right thing, etc.) by definition failure to contribute excludes one from this good.

One can get out of this problem by assuming that what potential contributors value is simply that charity be provided, and that they are indifferent between whether it is themselves or others who provide the contribution. If a significant number of potential contributors feel this way, then it appears that for them contribution to charity is a public good: noncontributors cannot be easily excluded from enjoying the benefits generated when others provide charity, and one’s enjoying those benefits does not seem to diminish others’ enjoyment.

But for such contributors, do we have an assurance problem and a free rider problem? Milton Friedman’s argument that there is an assurance problem is flawed. As Robert Nozick pointed out in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, there is an assurance problem only if a potential donor does not value his contribution (or values it less than its cost) if it fails to produce, in conjunction with others, a sufficient amount of charity. It is this assumption that supports the claim that a potential donor will prefer withholding his contribution if he thinks enough others will not contribute; if he thought that there was some net value in helping reduce poverty or disadvantage even if a sufficient reduction was not achieved, he would contribute even if others did not. It is hard to see, however, why a potential donor of this type would place no or almost no value on the partial reduction of poverty. Even if someone thinks that one should address the whole problem, this implies not that addressing the parts has virtually no value, but only that doing so has less value than addressing the problem in its entirety.

Thus, it seems that there are good grounds for contributing to charity even if one thinks that others will not adequately contribute. If this is so, then there is no dominant strategy here: I will not contribute (that is, I will free-ride) if others give a sufficient amount, but I will give if others do not. In game-theory parlance, we have a game of “chicken” here. There is no settled view about what strategy is rational in a game of chicken, but noncontribution is clearly not a dominant strategy.

Furthermore, a plausible case can be made that just as there really is no assurance problem, there really is no free-rider problem, either. This is because it is not obvious what amount of charity is “sufficient,” and therefore one should probably reason as if providing some sufficient amount of charity is not a real option. In these circumstances, contribution becomes a dominant strategy—one gives because one is never sure that others have given a sufficient amount, and one values the bringing about of a partial reduction of poverty or disadvantage.

4.    The burden of proof

Since neither the historical evidence nor the public-goods argument supports the claim that private charity would be insufficient were state welfare abolished, and since the sensitivity of private aid to the amount of state welfare provided suggests that private aid would rise if state welfare were ended, it is hard to see what basis there is for claiming that private aid would be insufficient in the absence of state welfare. Of course, I haven’t proved that private charity won’t be insufficient. Indeed, I doubt that this is the sort of thing one can prove. But unless there is some obvious argument I am overlooking, I think the considerations offered here put the burden of proof upon those who argue it won’t be sufficient.

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A few qualification, caveats, etc.

#1: What occurred in the late nineteenth century in the US was very close to a natural experiment regarding the claim of insufficiency. Although unconditional government aid was abolished or drastically reduced in large and some medium size cities, not all forms of government welfare were abolished. Prior to the rise of an extensive welfare state at the national level, government aid for the poor in the UK and the US consisted of outdoor relief mentioned in the body of this post (cash and in-kind aid such as food or fuel for the winter), and “indoor relief,” i.e., poorhouses. Poorhouses were workhouses that had rather harsh conditions: long hours were mandatory, and whipping and other punishments for infractions of a house’s rules were common. Poorhouses were not abolished in the U.S. cities that abolished outdoor relief in the late nineteenth century. Still, examining whether or not private giving made up for the absence of outdoor relief in those cities is relevant for the issue at hand: a major form of government welfare was abolished or drastically reduced for a quarter-century, and thus these cities relied on private aid for a substantial portion of the provision of aid to the needy and unfortunate.

#2: The empirical evidence I mention above comes from Frederic Almy, secretary of the Buffalo Charity Organization, who in 1899 gathered data on outdoor relief and private charity in forty cities, ten of which had completely abolished outdoor relief. Almy found that the cities with the lowest level of such aid had the highest level of private charity, and vice versa. See Frederic Almy, “The Relation between Private and Public Outdoor Relief—I,” Charities Review 9, no. 1 (1899): 22–33; and Frederic Almy, “The Relation between Private and Public Outdoor Relief—II,” Charities Review 9, no. 1 (1899): 65–71. Almy’s study does have some drawbacks. The relationship he found did not hold very well for cities with intermediate levels of outdoor relief; for these cities, the main observable relationship was that northern cities provided more total aid (public and private) than southern cities did. (Almy thought that the explanation for the regional difference was the harsher winters in the north.) Also, Almy’s study only measured private giving by regularly organized charitable societies; it omitted charity provided by individual churches, mutual aid societies, and the Salvation Army, so it may be that his study systematically underestimated the amount of private charity. Still, Almy’s study seems to refute the claim that when state welfare is abolished or drastically cut back, significant  harm must result since private charity will not pick up the slack.

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Some links on the public emergency exception to Miranda warnings http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/05/some-links-on-the-public-emergency-exception-to-miranda-warnings/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/05/some-links-on-the-public-emergency-exception-to-miranda-warnings/#comments Thu, 02 May 2013 02:35:27 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=5477 Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect in the Boston marathon bombings, was not read his Miranda rights until a few days after he was arrested. Here are two excellent articles which explain...

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect in the Boston marathon bombings, was not read his Miranda rights until a few days after he was arrested. Here are two excellent articles which explain the origin of this exception, why it is a dangerous idea, and how the Obama administration has expanded this exception.

By Emily Brazelon

By the incomparable Glen Greenwald

Now it turns out that not only was there a delay in reading Tsarnaev his Miranda rights, but his request for a lawyer were repeatedly denied, which is, as Glen Greenwald explains, worse.

Greenwald ends his eloquently column by quoting Thomas Paine and John Adams and pointing out that “Governments know that their best opportunity to institutionalize rights violations is when they can most easily manipulate the public into acquiescing to them by stoking public emotions of contempt against the individual target. For the reasons Paine and Adams explained, it is exactly in such cases – when public rage finds its most intense expression – when it is necessary to be most vigilant in defense of those rights.”

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Query For Left-Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/11/query-for-left-libertarians/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/11/query-for-left-libertarians/#comments Mon, 12 Nov 2012 02:23:57 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=4526 I am puzzled by left-libertarianism’s prediction that a freed market will not contain a significant amount of “bossism,” to use Gary Chartier’s phrase in his BHL post. Alas, I have...

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I am puzzled by left-libertarianism’s prediction that a freed market will not contain a significant amount of “bossism,” to use Gary Chartier’s phrase in his BHL post. Alas, I have not read Markets, Not Capitalism, and perhaps the puzzle is something that is easily solved by reading the book. I offer the puzzle here because I suspect it may have occurred to other readers of this blog, and it may help elucidate important features of the left-libertarian view.

Workers in a coop in a freed market are allowed to sell their shares in the coop. Their rights to their shares in the firm include use rights, i.e., they decide the nature of work relations, working condition, pay differentials, managerial responsibility, etc., and income rights, i.e., they receive the net profits of the firms. There are two reasons why this sector will be likely be small.

First, it will be irrational for workers to concentrate their portfolio in their own firm, lest it go under. So they will want to sell some of their shares in their own firm and buy shares in other firms. Once that happens it is not hard to see how those who don’t work in the firm will come to own considerable shares of the firm (and of course that will include institutional investors) which means the end of an economy dominated by worker controlled firms. Now some coops may restrict outsiders’ rights in their firm, so that they are not able to have use rights, i.e., a say or a vote in how the firm is managed. But some coops won’t do this, and it is plausible that those who won’t do this and give outsiders full ownership rights will have a competitive advantage. This is because those who can attract more outside capital will have a competitive advantage in adapting to changing market conditions and those who will supply considerable capital will tend to want some way to monitor that their capital is being used in an efficient manner, which means some kind of say over how the firm is run.

Another reason workers will want to sell their shares is that when workers leave the firm—change jobs, retire, etc.—they will want to take their profits with them. Indeed, even before they leave they may want to cash out some of their profits, i.e., sell some of their shares.  And for reasons I just mentioned, those buying them may not be content with nonvoting shares. So again we get the scenario of outsiders coming to have full ownership rights in the firms, and it’s not hard to see how this will lead fairly quickly to an economy which is dominated by capitalist firms.

Now the prediction that a freed market will not contain a significant amount of bossism does not, I take it, entail a prediction that there won’t be a substantial number of firms which are not coops. It only entails a prediction that most of these firms won’t be hierarchical firms where workers get bossed around. Those firms which are smaller and flatter, to use Roderick Long’s terminology, minimize or eliminate this function of bosses. But here my puzzle continues.  How do left-libertarians know these firms will tend to be small and flat? Firms which are financed largely by equity will, in a freed market, be those that maximize shareholder value, and how do we know that a substantial number of those firms won’t be hierarchical firms? I endorse Roderick Long’s argument that the larger the firm the more likely calculation chaos will impede efficiency, and it’s also true that bossing people around can impede efficiency. But those are ceteris paribus claims, and it may be a firm needs to reach a certain size in order to be efficient, and that too little hierarchy can impede efficiency. So I remain puzzled.

My puzzle to some extent also crosses over to the moral opposition to bossism. Bossing people around can certainly be bad; indeed at times it is positively evil. One of the nice features of being an academic is that one has a fair amount of autonomy in one’s job, so as a personal matter I share Long and Chartier’s outlook. But as libertarians we favor a vigorously competitive market, which means firms will have to be quite attuned to consumer sentiment and shareholder value, and so as libertarians I would think we would have to distinguish between different kinds of bossism. Bossism in the context of a competitive market is regrettable or perhaps a bad we have to put up with for the sake of greater goods or a just society, whereas bossism that has no connection with the rigors of a competitive market is unequivocally oppressive. So I am also puzzled how left-libertarians can say that they are opposed to bossism per se.

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A brief addendum: in the above post, I only discussed coops and capitalist firms, but I did not discuss self-employed or being one’s own boss. But the same argument applies, perhaps a fortiori, to being one’s own boss. Being one’s own boss is quite a risky proposition, so I would be puzzled by a confident prediction that in a freed market this would be something a large percentage of people would choose even without state barriers that make it more difficult to be one’s own boss (occupational licensure, oppressive taxation, etc.)  And morally, being one’s own boss is hardly an unequivocal good. I would suck at it, and I would be puzzled by anyone who argued that I should choose a life at which I have no comparative advantage.

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A puzzle about an argument against a thick conception of economic liberty http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/06/a-puzzle-about-an-argument-against-a-thick-conception-of-economic-liberty/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/06/a-puzzle-about-an-argument-against-a-thick-conception-of-economic-liberty/#comments Wed, 06 Jun 2012 01:15:54 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=2971 Hello there, Sorry for the long absence. As my students might say, I’ve had some personal ‘issues.’ Anyway, I am linking to Will Wilkinson’s blog post of an argument by...

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Hello there,
Sorry for the long absence. As my students might say, I’ve had some personal ‘issues.’
Anyway, I am linking to Will Wilkinson’s blog post of an argument by Samuel Freeman in his paper “Capitalism in the Classical and High Liberal Traditions” Will’s blog post can be found here: http://bigthink.com/ideas/40584?page=all and Freeman’s article can be found here:  http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=8280239&jid=SOY&volumeId=28&issueId=02&aid=8280237&bodyId=&membershipNumber=&societyETOCSession=

The relevant section of Freeman’s paper is section IV. In my view, you can get a good grasp of Freeman’s arguments just by reading Wilkinson’s post.
I think Wilkinson’s criticism of Freeman is correct, but on the grounds that confirmation bias is the most powerful force in the universe, I thought it would be useful to pose the question to readers of this blog: is Wilkinson correct in his criticism of Freeman? I thought it was worth posting on this, because Freeman’s type of argument against a thick conception of economic liberty seems to me not uncommon, and like Wilkinson I remain puzzled by the argument.

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Comparative Institutional Evaluation, or How Not to Do Political Philosophy http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/03/comparative-institutional-evaluation-or-how-not-to-do-political-philosophy/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/03/comparative-institutional-evaluation-or-how-not-to-do-political-philosophy/#comments Fri, 25 Mar 2011 20:17:01 +0000 http://www.bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=525 Consider the following only slightly exaggerated version of an argument that occurs in a lot of political philosophy 1. Institution X is unjust or bad.2. Therefore, X should be abolished or...

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Consider the following only slightly exaggerated version of an argument that occurs in a lot of political philosophy

1. Institution X is unjust or bad.
2. Therefore, X should be abolished or reformed.

What's wrong with this? Well, two things, actually, which I describe below.

First, identifying some feature(s) of X as bad or unjust doesn't give any reason, or at least no particularly strong reason, to believe that an alternative institution will be better or less unjust. A joke illustrates the problem. A Roman Emperor asked to hear the best singers in his kingdom. The finalists were narrowed down to two. The emperor heard the first one, was unimpressed, and promptly announced that the award goes to the other finalist, because the next singer must be better than the first one. Of course, that’s wrong: the second one could be no better or worse. The emperor needs to hear both singers to make a proper judgment.

  Call this first problem the nirvana fallacy. The nirvana fallacy is not that common in my view among political philosophers; they usually mention, at least implicitly, some alternative institution that is supposed to eliminate or lessen the alleged evil or injustice. (*For a whopping example of the nirvana fallacy, see below.)

  However, simply identifying some alternative institution is not sufficient, for one must also specify what processes or mechanisms of the alternative institution are likely to bring about an improvement. And failing to do this is, alas, fairly common in political philosophy. (For some prominent examples, see the excerpt from chapter 1 of my book: http://www.cambridge.org/servlet/file/item_9780521677936_excerpt.pdf?ITEM_ENT_ID=2348506&ITEM_VERSION=1&COLLSPEC_ENT_ID=6)

 Call this second problem the failure to engage in comparative institutional evaluation. 

  Failing to do comparative institutional evaluation runs the risk of failing to compare like with like, with jumping between the real and the ideal. Arguments that an institution is bad or unjust are typically arguments about real institutions. So an argument for changing it must specify a real or realistic alternative. (The reason for the modifier “or realistic” and the challenges it raises for libertarians will be mentioned below).

  This suggests the following better argument for institutional change:

1. Institution X manifests or produces injustice or social evil E.
2. Institution Y has some processes or mechanisms that make it likely that it will lack E or manifest or produce less of E than X does.
3. If an institution produces or manifests more injustice or evil than a feasible alternative, it ought to be abolished.
4. Therefore, we should abolish or alter X and bring about Y.

Even this isn't quite right, because even if Y produces or manifests less of E, the change from X to Y might produce or manifest such side effects or so much injustice that it would be wrong to change X and try to bring about Y. But the above argument is certainly an improvement from the original defective argument and gives a rough idea how to do comparative institutional evaluation.

Two lessons can be drawn from the need for comparative institutional evaluation, one for political philosophy in general and one, a challenge specifically for libertarians. The general lesson is that doing political philosophy–at least if one is arguing for institutional change–requires social science. To argue that one institution is superior to or less bad or unjust than another one must compare how the different institutions work (or realistically would work) and that requires social science. A lot of political philosophy ignores social science; hence a lot of political philosophy is defective.

 The challenge for libertarianism is to avoid over-idealizing their alternative to statist institutions. Sometimes there simply aren’t any real alternatives to statist institutions; that’s why I said the comparison sometimes is real-realistic, rather than real-real.

I don’t have a general rule for how to avoid over-idealization.  Often history is a great help. The lack of a welfare state will lead to the immiseration of the poor? Nope, take a look at David Beito’s excellent book on mutual aid societies.  The market can’t provide certain public goods? Again, the empirical trumps the a priori. (For a long time the lighthouse was considered a paradigm example of a good the market couldn’t provide till Ronald Coase pointed out it had been provided without the state. http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Coase.html) Sometimes using arguments about similar or analogous institutions will help. So for example, there is nothing libertarians can point to that exists or existed that is genuinely free market health insurance (the claim that the US private health insurance is somehow an exemplar of market health insurance is utterly false—see pp. 42-53 of my book or David Henderson “Myths of US Health Care” in Better Medicine: Reforming Canadian Health Care, but one can use arguments about how market insurance works in other areas where the state’s presence is not as overwhelming as it in health care to show how it would work in health care. Still, one person’s realistic alternative is another person’s unfair use of an ideal market to compare to a real statist institution. This is an issue which libertarians need to give more thought to, I believe.

* Here's the example: Ronald Beiner, “What Liberalism Means,” Social Philosophy and Policy 13 (Winter 1996), 203, says the following: “A liberal is someone who says that the present social order in contemporary, Western, democratic, individualistic and pluralistic societies is basically okay, apart from a need for improvements in equality of opportunity and more equitable social distribution. A critic of liberalism like myself will say this is nonsense. To this, the liberal will reply: ‘Okay, this isn’t good enough; what’s your alternative?’ It is both necessary and legitimate for me to claim that I don’t need to answer this question. . . . That’s not my job. My job as a theorist is to criticize the prevailing social order.”

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