Liberalism – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Fri, 19 Jan 2018 15:05:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png Liberalism – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 Libertarianism for Luck Egalitarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/libertarianism-luck-egalitarians/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/libertarianism-luck-egalitarians/#comments Thu, 28 Sep 2017 15:38:27 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12048 Luck egalitarianism is, roughly, the view that inequalities in life prospects resulting from luck are unjust. (There’s a lot to nit pick about that characterization, but it’s a start.) If...

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Luck egalitarianism is, roughly, the view that inequalities in life prospects resulting from luck are unjust. (There’s a lot to nit pick about that characterization, but it’s a start.) If Amy has better job opportunities than Bob because she happened to have parents who could afford to send her to a fancy private school, that’s unfair.

You might even think it’s unfair that Rob Gronkowski makes so much more money than, say, me simply because he was gifted with 6’6” height and fast-twitch muscle fibers that enable him to run a 4.68 40 yard dash. Even if we both work equally hard at our crafts, Gronk will earn more than me because his natural talents are more marketable than mine. But it’s not like Gronk earned those talents; he just got lucky and won the genetic lottery. So it’s wrong for him to make so much more money than I do.

Suppose, for argument’s sake, this account of distributive justice is correct. What institutional conclusions follow? Luck egalitarians suggest that the income disparities between people like me and Gronk show that free markets are unjust. It’s the job of the state to correct for these kinds of market-generated inequalities via regulation and redistribution.

As I detail in my book, luck egalitarians (and fellow travelers who might not apply the label to themselves) are nearly unanimous in their rejection of free market regimes. Here’s a small sample:

“Laissez-faire capitalism (the system of natural liberty) secures only formal equality and rejects both the fair value of the equal political liberties and fair equality of opportunity.” (John Rawls)

“Market allocations must be corrected in order to bring some people closer to the share of resources they would have had but for these various differences of initial advantage, luck and inherent capacity.” (Ronald Dworkin)

“Desert as a principle of justice, then, rather than justifying the distributional consequences of free market choices, requires precisely the elimination, or at least the minimization, of the differential brute luck that characterizes the free market […]. The adoption of desert as a principle of justice seems to result in a much more demanding requirement, as far as its implications for the regulation of the market are concerned, than a commitment to voluntariness as a legitimating condition for the imposition of obligations, even when this is suitably revised so as to square up with a defensible account of voluntariness and force.” (Serena Olsaretti)

I could go on, but you get the point: the market generates luck-based inequalities and the state reduces them.

One problem with this argument is that you don’t clinch the luck egalitarian case against free markets by simply showing that they create luck-based inequalities. What you need to do is show that the alternative is better. To use an old analogy of mine, showing that Steph Curry misses over half of his three point shot attempts doesn’t justify benching Steph Curry. To justifiably bench Steph Curry, you’d need to show that his replacement would do better. Similarly, luck egalitarians need to show that a highly regulated market with extensive redistribution will have less luck-based inequality than a libertarian regime.

Here’s a reason for doubting that claim: those who benefit from inherited wealth, elite education, and natural talent in the market also benefit from those factors in politics. Put very roughly, political power will concentrate in the hands of the rich—the very people the political power was created to regulate and restrain. Thus, we might naturally expect such power to be used to increase rather than decrease the advantages of the rich.

Interestingly, this is Rawls’s own view. He says that a

“reason for controlling economic and social inequalities is to prevent one part of society from dominating the rest. When those two kinds of inequalities are large, they tend to support political inequality. As Mill said, the bases of political power are (educated) intelligence, property, and the power of combination, by which he meant the power to cooperate in pursuing one’s political interests. This power allows a few, in virtue of their control over the machinery of state, to enact a system of law and property that ensures their dominant position in the economy as a whole.”

By Rawls’s own lights, the rich will use their “(educated) intelligence, property, and the power of combination” to acquire political power and “enact a system of law and property that ensures their dominant position in the economy as a whole.” But now we can see a problem for Rawls’s view. The people that Rawls wants the state to control (those with property, education, and so on) are the same people that Rawls thinks control the state itself. So how can the state control the rich if the rich control the state? Shouldn’t we instead expect state intervention into the economy to favor the rich? Indeed, this is exactly what we see in many cases: subsidies, licensing, trade restrictions, housing regulations, and so on tend to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.

Of course, we cannot definitively establish a conclusion about the effects of regulation and redistribution on luck-based inequalities by doing a priori institutional analysis. But at a minimum, luck egalitarians shouldn’t rule out libertarianism as a viable institutional option at the level of philosophical theory. Perhaps libertarianism and luck egalitarianism are compatible after all.

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The Rhetoric of Libertarians and the Unfortunate Appeal to the Alt-Right http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/rhetoric-libertarians-unfortunate-appeal-alt-right/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/rhetoric-libertarians-unfortunate-appeal-alt-right/#comments Fri, 04 Aug 2017 15:48:39 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11976 One of my most clicked-on posts here at BHL was this one on Ron Paul’s newsletters and why they still mattered 20 years after they were published. In that piece,...

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One of my most clicked-on posts here at BHL was this one on Ron Paul’s newsletters and why they still mattered 20 years after they were published. In that piece, I asked the following questions about the way in which racist organizations like Stormfront found Paul worthy of their support:

Even if Ron had never intentionally courted them, isn’t it a huge problem that they think he is a good candidate?  Doesn’t that say something really bad about the way Ron Paul is communicating his message?  Doesn’t it suggest that years of the paleo strategy of courting folks like that actually resonated with the worst of the right?

That was 2011, before the term “alt-right” was in currency and certainly well before the Trump candidacy dramatically reduced the stigma associated with public expressions of nativism, racism, and anti-Semitism.

The paleo-libertarian seed that Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell planted in the 1990s has come to bear some really ugly fruit in the last couple of years as elements of the alt-right have made appearances in various libertarian organizations and venues. Back in February, alt-right hero Richard Spencer stirred up a fuss at the International Students for Liberty Conference in DC after being invited to hang out by a group of students calling themselves the “Hoppe Caucus.” Hans-Hermann Hoppe, long associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as a panoply of racists and anti-Semites, is perhaps the most popular gateway drug for the alt-right incursion into libertarianism.

And within the last couple of weeks, Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute delivered a talk to students at Mises University entitled “For a New Libertarian.” In that talk, he knocks down an extended strawman of what he thinks constitutes the libertarianism he wants them to reject – what many might call “left-libertarianism,” including, I suspect, many of us here at BHL. For example:

Because while libertarians enthusiastically embrace markets, they have for decades made the disastrous mistake of appearing hostile to family, to religion, to tradition, to culture, and to civic or social institution — in other words, hostile to civil society itself.

Most controversially, Deist, after continuing to argue that family, faith, and the like are the cultural glue that humans need and that libertarians should focus on, decided to end with:

In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.

For those who know something about the history of the 20th century, the invocation of “blood and soil” as something that libertarians should recognize as a valid concern and should appeal to should be chilling. That phrase, which has a history going back at least to the 19th century, was central to the Nazi movement and was at the core of their justification for eliminating those people who did not have connections to the German homeland. It remains a watchword of the nastiest elements on the right, as a quick visit to bloodandsoil.org will demonstrate, if your stomach can handle it. That phrase, whatever Deist’s intent, would be very attractive to many among the alt-right, including neo-Nazis and other racists and anti-Semites. One click on the Blood and Soil website above will make that appeal abundantly clear.

Perhaps Deist didn’t know all of that. If so, one would expect a decent person to immediately apologize for using that phrase that way in that context. To my knowledge, no such apology has appeared. On the assumption that he is not, in fact, a Nazi, the explanation left standing is that he and his defenders have no problem using rhetoric that will attract those sympathetic to Nazi-like views about nativism and Jews. It’s that lack of concern about engaging in that sort of rhetoric, if not a positive willingness to do so, that is so troubling here, and it is eating away at the liberal roots of libertarianism.

If I may add a personal note for a moment: I have been in the middle of several Facebook debates over that phrase and Deist’s talk, and I’ve taken quite a bit of abuse from fans of the Mises Institute. Let me take this opportunity to clarify what I did and did not say. Contrary to the assertion many are making, I did not call Deist or people associated with the Institute “Nazis.” None of my Facebook posts did that, nor can I find a comment where I said as much. If I did, I will happily apologize as I do not think Deist is a Nazi.

What I did say is the same point I made about the Ron Paul newsletters: the problem with Deist’s talk, and the Mises Institute more generally, is not that they are Nazis, but that they appear to have no problem with making arguments that are appealing to neo-Nazis and the rest of the unsavory elements of the right. That’s the problem here. Why would supposed libertarians want to engage in a strategy and make use of rhetoric that is clearly a signal to those folks? That’s the same question I asked 6 years ago and matters have only become worse since then.

It’s also amusing that I have become the poster boy for the libertine, universalist libertarianism that they attack, for at least two reasons. First, name a libertarian who has written more about the family and its importance for a free society than I have. My book is explicitly a “non-conservative defense of the family.” For the kind of libertarian who is supposedly hostile to family, I sure spend a lot of time writing professionally about how great it is.

And second, again with apologies for the personal stuff, for the kind of libertarian who supposedly doesn’t care about religion or civil society, I sure do spend a lot of time doing volunteer work for synagogues and schools. I was on the board of my local synagogue in New York for a decade, most of which was as Treasurer. My ex-wife and I were heads of the parents group for the music department at the local school for several years. Sarah and I are deeply involved with our synagogue here in Indianapolis. I’m not about to put my tax returns up on the web, but I’m confident that I give at least as much of my time and money to family, religion, culture, and civil society as do any of the folks who nodded along with Deist’s argument.

As I pointed out with the Paul newsletters, all of this appeal to nativism, racism, and anti-Semitism and the like is in deep conflict with libertarianism’s liberalism. It’s particularly in conflict with the liberal cosmopolitanism of someone like Mises. And the use of Nazi language is especially galling as it was the very “blood and soil” crowd who drove the Jewish Mises out of Vienna.

Instead of this sort of nonsense, we need to recapture libertarianism’s progressive roots in the liberal movement of the 19th century. I put it this way in 2011:

What we need right now is Rothbard’s vision of a free society as sketched in For a New Liberty, but we need it defended better.  More carefully.  More richly.  More empirically.  More humanely. More progressively.  More tolerantly. With better scholarship.  And we have to do it in a way that’s immune to the charge that libertarians don’t care about making the world a better place, especially for the least well off and those historically victimized by the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, or anything else that’s irrelevant to their moral status as human actors.

The writings of the paleolibertarians will continue to stain that project unless and until the rest of the libertarian movement stops trying to apologize for them…

Our history is one of liberal tolerance, universalism, and cosmopolitanism, putting the freedom and harmony of all people ahead of the supposed interests of any parochial sub-group, and especially ones defined by the artificial boundaries of nation-states and their subsets. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.

Finally, one of the most disturbing side aspects of the controversy over Deist’s speech that it revealed how little so many young libertarians know about the Nazis and the Holocaust. I suppose I can understand ignorance of the “blood and soil” reference, but what troubled me more was when I made a joke involving the phrase “work shall set you free” and several commenters had no idea where that phrase came from or why any positive spin on it (as Deist did with “blood and soil”) should be so troubling. Holocaust ignorance is a real problem. And to the degree that young people are attracted to the alt-right out of ignorance rather than pure hatred, combating that ignorance can also serve the purpose of resisting the alt-right incursion into libertarianism.

Because I believe in education, religion, and the importance of the institutions of civil society, and because I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, Sarah and I recently made a donation to the Birmingham (AL) Holocaust Education Center. We made our donation as a tribute to Ludwig von Mises. I invite my fellow bloggers and all of our commenters who share my concerns to consider doing the same. You don’t have to list Professor Mises’s address as the address of the Mises Institute as we did, but you might also consider doing that as an additional touch.

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Hutt on Constitutional Constraints as Protection for the Politically Weak http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/hutt-constitutional-constraints-protection-politically-weak/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/hutt-constitutional-constraints-protection-politically-weak/#comments Thu, 03 Aug 2017 23:42:28 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11971 Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains has been the gift that keeps on giving. Rather than pile on yet another specific error in the book, I want to briefly address one...

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Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains has been the gift that keeps on giving. Rather than pile on yet another specific error in the book, I want to briefly address one of the overall themes through a specific thinker and context she raises.

As co-blogger Mike has pointed out, MacLean is an unreconstructed majoritarian throughout the book. The whole problem with public choice is that it wanted to place democratic majorities in chains. She is unwavering in her commitment to that claim. As many have noted, myself included, it’s a strange position to take for a progressive who presumably supports the Supreme Court decisions in Brown, Loving, Roe, and Obergefell, all of which overturned the work of democratic majorities in a large number of states.

MacLean also charges public choice with racism, as she sees its desire to chain those majorities as a way of locking in the privileges of the rich, white, elite by denying the progressive forces of history on the side of the majority from creating the policies and institutions they wish to. She also argued that the context of 1960s Virginia was one in which it was easy for Buchanan and others to signal that racism in subtle ways, hence the way she sees his argument for competition in schooling as opposition to Brown.

At one point, she invokes Buchanan’s invitation to the South African economist W. H. Hutt to spend the 1965-66 academic year at UVA as evidence for her broad thesis by pointing to Hutt’s work that was critical of unions. She sees this as evidence of Buchanan’s defense of the privileges of wealth. What she fails to note, as several others have pointed out, was that Hutt was a vocal and early critic of apartheid and compared it to the segregation in the US south. And part of his criticism of unions was the role that white unions had played in both privately coercing black workers in South Africa and then using the power of the state to put apartheid into law. If Buchanan was really such a racist and defender of segregation, why would he invite Hutt and have him speak on those issues?

During the winter he was at UVA, Hutt published an article entitled “South Africa’s Salvation in Classic Liberalism” in Il Politico (Vol. 30, No. 4, December, pp. 782-795). What’s particularly interesting in light of MacLean is this paragraph where he discusses the origins of apartheid (emphasis mine):

But very soon in the development of the mining industry, fears began to arise that the Africans might one day claim the right to perform many of the tasks which had hitherto been the preserve of the Whites. It is hardly surprising that, in the early years of the present century, the full strength of the white labour union movement came to be used to check a gradual dissolution of customary obstacles to African employment in work involving skill or responsibility. By means of violent strikes, the labour unions demonstrated the private coercive power which the State had allowed them to acquire. The white miners formed an important portion of the electorate; and far from the State taking steps to suppress private coercion, before long it substituted its own coercion for that of the labour union, through the Mines and Works Act of 1911. Known as the first “Colour Bar Act”, it was the first to embody explicitly the principle which has recently become known as “job reservation.” It illustrates, therefore, (a) what the “classic liberal” must regard as the reprehensible passivity of the State when confronted with private coercion by a politically favoured group, and (b) the tendency of the State to discriminate directly in favour of the politically strong (whether majorities or minorities) in the absence of effective constitutional restraints.

What’s worth noting here is that Hutt’s case for constitutional constraints is that they prevent the powerful from preying on the weak, which is precisely the opposite of MacLean’s view. What enabled the powerful whites in South Africa to use the state to oppress the blacks was not the existence of constitutional constraints but their absence. In both of his final observations there, Hutt takes the side of the politically weaker and oppressed blacks against the powerful whites. This is certainly not the picture of libertarianism that MacLean draws in her discussion of Buchanan, public choice, and the Koch brothers.

This is the scholar Buchanan chose to visit UVA in the mid-1960s: a long-time opponent of apartheid who had been hounded for his views and who understood that public choice was an effective tool to prevent the exploitation of the politically weak by the politically powerful. This perspective is consistent with public choice’s description of the role of constitutional rules and Buchanan’s life-long commitment to a world without discrimination or domination.

Nancy MacLean’s overarching narrative of public choice’s call for constitutional constraints as a road map for the powerful to acquire and maintain power over the powerless gets matters completely backward. Hutt’s invitation to Buchanan’s Jefferson Center and the talks he gave and the papers he published while there are further evidence of her complete misreading of her subject matter.

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Chris Freiman’s Unequivocal Justice http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/chris-freimans-unequivocal-justice/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/chris-freimans-unequivocal-justice/#comments Wed, 02 Aug 2017 15:19:00 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11965 Christopher Freiman  has just published a fabulous book, Unequivocal Justice, the first book in Routledge Press’s new “Political Philosophy for the Real World” series. It is a tour de force of philosophical...

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Christopher Freiman  has just published a fabulous book, Unequivocal Justice, the first book in Routledge Press’s new “Political Philosophy for the Real World” series.

It is a tour de force of philosophical excellence. It may well be the best book of political philosophy published in 2017. I certainly haven’t read anything this year that comes close to competing with it.

Imagine a person said, “I have a solution to the problem of drunk driving. However, my solution works only in a world where alcohol hadn’t been invented.” There’s something deeply silly and incoherent about that.

Well, it turns out that the mainstream of political philosophy over the past 50 years has precisely this problem. The mainline of political philosophy, when it tries to defend or critique various institutions, has largely been a joke, Freiman shows us, though he’s too polite to put it that bluntly.

What Freiman shows is that Rawls, Freeman, Ackerman, Dworkin, and a number of other left-liberal philosophers are making this kind of mistake over and over. His critique is so devastating that you might as well take Rawls’s writings about institutions and throw them in the trash; they are now, thanks to Chris, nothing more than artifacts of historical interest.

Chris starts by saying,

A perfect state is a pointless state.

The point of a state is to mitigate injustice. If Rich would donate his 40% to the poor, the state wouldn’t need to tax his income. If Mimi would buy a hybrid instead of a Hummer, the state wouldn’t need to cap her emissions. But since virtue alone won’t do the job, the state needs to redistribute equitably and regulate efficiently.

…But here’s the problem: the very reasons why the state is needed are reasons why the state won’t work.

 

Rawls writes mostly at the level of ideal theory. But, Freiman shows, an ideal theory of the state is incoherent. (Yes, he responds to Kavka’s argument otherwise.) Under ideal conditions–in which people are stipulated to comply fully with the requirements of morality and justice–there simply is no need for a state, period. There is no need to create an institution which claims a monopoly on violence and which enforces rules through threats of violence. Ideal theory must be anarchist.

Coercion is needed to defend justice only when society is less than fully just. But when society is less than fully just, we cannot stipulate the ideal justness of the state itself. So we arrive at the dilemma for ideal theories of the state: either (i) society is fully just, in which case there is no need for a state, or (ii) society is not fully just, in which we case we may not stipulate the state itself is just.

In order to create a need for a state, Rawls (and his followers) equivocate. They posit bad behavior in the private sector. But then, in order to defend their favored regime and in order to avoid the criticism that the regime itself might be corrupt and make things worse, they imagine away all bad behavior in the public sphere.

For example, Rawls claims that we need to equalize incomes in order to prevent the rich from buying power for themselves. (Freiman thinks that’s a weird argument to begin with; in order to stop people from polluting, we don’t equalize income; rather we regulate pollution.) But here’s the dilemma.

…The only way to ground both (i) the need for regulation and (ii) the stipulation of the regulation’s success is to equivocate in precisely the way Rawls does.

So, to restore consistency, Rawls needs to resolve a dilemma: Either (i) the rich aren’t buying up state power, in which case equalization isn’t necessary, or (ii) the rich are buying up state power, in which case they can subvert equalization by buying up the state power unleashed to do the equalizing. Neither option justifies an a priori demand for equalization.

A few other philosophers, including G. A. Cohen and me, have pointed out that Rawls makes cartoonishly bad arguments like this here and there. But Freiman methodically goes through Rawls and a few others, and finds they make such arguments constantly. Rawls’s version of the public goods argument, his argument for redistribution taxation, his argument for the existence of the state, and so on, all have the same form: He’s giving us a theory about how to solve drunk driving, but his solution can only be stipulated to work in a world where alcohol had never been invented.

In the end, the mistake is that Rawls is trying to make a priori arguments for institutions, regime-types, and rules. These arguments all fail. They are no substitute for doing careful PPE-style empirical institutional analysis. Freiman closes by warning left-liberals not just to presume that empirical analysis will vindicate the exact institutions they were defending on entirely a priori grounds.

Again, the book is a tour-de-force. You should read it. It will make you a better thinker.

Here’s my blurb for the book:

Unequivocal Justice, with its delightful and engaging prose, is a devastating critique of the dominant arguments and methods in political philosophy. It shows that almost everything Rawls and other left-liberals have said about institutions over the past 50 years is not merely wrong, but incoherent. It should–if philosophers have an intellectual integrity–change the field forever.

Strong words, but entirely deserved.

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MacLean on Nutter and Buchanan on Universal Education http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/06/maclean-nutter-buchanan-universal-education/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/06/maclean-nutter-buchanan-universal-education/#comments Wed, 28 Jun 2017 20:26:22 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11892 Finding examples of misleading, incorrect, and outright butchered quotes and citations in Nancy MacLean’s new book about James Buchanan, Democracy in Chains, has become the academic version of Pokemon Go this...

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Finding examples of misleading, incorrect, and outright butchered quotes and citations in Nancy MacLean’s new book about James Buchanan, Democracy in Chains, has become the academic version of Pokemon Go this week. I now offer one small contribution of my own, plus a few other thoughts about one piece of her argument.

For those unfamiliar, MacLean argues that Buchanan’s work, and public choice, more broadly, emerged in highly segregated Virginia in the shadow of Brown v. Board of Education as a way to attack the expansion of federal government power and defend the elitist Southern Agrarian privileges of a white plutocracy. Their program of limiting absolute democracy and majority rule through constitutional provisions (a truly bizarre and radical idea, I realize) was grown in the soil of segregation. She paints Buchanan and the whole public choice tradition as enemies of democracy who have now joined forces with the Koch brothers in a stealth, fifth column attack on American democracy in particular. Putting aside that there is no documented connection between Buchanan and the Southern Agrarians, a connection that makes no sense anyway given Buchanan’s commitment to analytical egalitarianism, is there any truth to the claim that the Brown v. Board context was even relevant?

MacLean argues there is, and bases that on a 1959 paper by G. Warren Nutter and Buchanan titled “The Economics of Universal Education” in which they lay out a number of ways that universal education could be provided, including via a Friedman-style voucher system. They describe the different characteristics of the alternative systems, and clearly conclude that “the public must choose which characteristics it prefers” (9). They add “As economists we do not presume to make a choice of one system over another…Our purpose is to lay bare the facts as we see them, so that they will receive their due weight in any decisions that will be made through the democratic process” (11).

Hardly enemies of democracy in the paper, Nutter and Buchanan see their task (as Buchanan did for his whole career) as offering analyses that could inform the deliberations of the democratic process, both at the level of the constitutional rules and the games that take place within those rules. Nutter and Buchanan also reject, as Buchanan always did, any privileged role for the economist in that process: “Each citizen speaks for himself on such matters, and each citizen’s opinion weights as heavily as any other’s, no matter what his position in society – whether farmer, lawyer, educator, or minister” (1). Hardly the words of an anti-democratic elitist plutocrat.

MacLean sees this paper as an attempt by the two scholars to undermine public education in Virginia in order to keep the effects of pre-Brown segregation while still complying with the law. That is, she sees it as evidence of the racism at the core of arguments for free markets and public choice analyses of the failures of government. This is despite the fact that Nutter and Buchanan explicitly defend a role for government in education, including “compelling attendance, fixing minimum standards, and financing cost” (3). They also never mention race in the paper, as she acknowledges, but their use of the technical language of economics and their race-neutrality is seen by her as evidence of their attempt to generate racist outcomes by stealth. (As is often the case with conspiracy theory-style thinking, the evidence against the conspiracy is actually evidence for it.)

One might also note that supporting Brown also means that one is thwarting the desires of democratic majorities, at least at the state and local level. For all of MacLean’s ringing defenses of majority rule and the importance of the democratic process, it’s fascinating that she sees the foundation of the arguments of democracy’s supposed opponents as a rejection of a Supreme Court decision that told local and state majorities that they couldn’t have the segregated schools they wanted.

One might also note that the argument Nutter and Buchanan make is nearly identical to that of J. S. Mill in On Liberty. Is Mill, who was arguably among the 19th century’s great opponents of racism and supporters of analytical egalitarianism, now also to be seen as a secret racist with a plan to subvert democracy?

Toward the end of the paper, Nutter and Buchanan respond to numerous objections to a voucher plan. One criticism at the time was that it would harm education and drive employers out of the state. In MacLean’s summary of their response, she writes (67):

Corporations would not care who ran the schools, they said, as long as good education was available. “All that matters” for the economy, the two scholars maintained, was that the state government support some school system “cheaply and efficiently.” How that schooling was provided was immaterial.

Note the way in which the quoted material makes it appear as though what Nutter and Buchanan were saying was that it would be good if governments supported school systems “cheaply and efficiently,” nicely fitting her narrative (and that of many on the left) that libertarians just want to reduce spending on education. They don’t care much about kids actually getting educated. (She says as much in the book in several places.)

Here’s the actual passage from the Nutter and Buchanan paper (17-18), which is more subtle and has a different meaning than MacLean suggests:

Other things equal, communities with good, efficiently run schools will be more attractive to employees, actual and prospective, than other communities. But we fail to see what this has to do with who runs the schools, whether a state agency or private parties. We doubt that there is a strong attachment to state schools, as such. If a mixed system of private and state schools provides universal education at least as cheaply and efficiently as a pure system of state schools, this would seem to be all that matters.

MacLean takes “cheaply and efficiently” to refer to the level of state support provided. Nutter and Buchanan clearly use that phrase to refer not to the level of state support per se, but to the ability of any system to use resources wisely to produce a given quality of education. Her reading makes it seem like Nutter and Buchanan think that “all that matters” is that state support be “cheap and efficient.” But what they are clearly arguing is “all that matters” is which system delivers the desired level of universal education using the fewest resources.

Nutter and Buchanan are using the economist’s notion of efficiency – how to generate a desired outcome at least cost – whereas MacLean can only think in terms of a supposed desire to spend a little as possible in and of itself. The “least cost” and therefore most efficient system might be one that spends more in absolute terms if it generates a higher level of a highly desired output. A system that spent twice as much on education but got three times the quality/quantity of education as the next best system might be “cheaper and more efficient” if we value education highly enough as compared to other uses of those resources. Again, Nutter and Buchanan are not saying to use as few resources as possible in and of itself; they are asking which alternative system of education gives us the most bang for the buck. And they want “the democratic process” to decide which one we should adopt. MacLean’s selective quoting does not allow the reader to see the full context of Nutter and Buchanan’s argument.

Is the idea that we should provide a given quality and quantity of a valuable good or service using the least valuable resources possible really that shocking or hard to understand?

This is an example of a running problem with the book. MacLean has, by her own admission, very little knowledge of economics. In addition, her knowledge of Buchanan’s system of thought comes mostly from his autobiography Better than Plowing, The Calculus of Consent, and two secondary sources that are highly critical and have their own problems of good faith interpretation. In the most generous reading, she is misunderstanding arguments and chopping up quotes because she simply doesn’t understand what Buchanan and his collaborators are up to. In the least generous reading, she has a theory and she’s going to cut up the evidence to fit that theory. If one believes that modern libertarians are the enemies of democracy, progress, equality, and all that’s good in the world, and MacLean clearly does, then the evidence will always be read, and sometimes constructed, in ways that support the argument on the side of the angels.

Unfortunately, anyone who takes the time to read the actual sources she’s working from, or who understands public choice theory, can see this exercise for what it is: a travesty of scholarly standards (no, Charles Dickens’ novels do not count as data about the economic conditions of the 19th century) and a smear job on one of the great minds of the 20th century.

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The Why and How of Reasonable Disagreement http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/04/the-why-and-how-of-reasonable-disagreement/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/04/the-why-and-how-of-reasonable-disagreement/#comments Wed, 26 Apr 2017 15:48:43 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11757 The Niskanen Center has posted my new essay on reasonable political disagreements. I explain both why we often mistakenly assume that our political disagreements are unreasonable and how to avoid...

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The Niskanen Center has posted my new essay on reasonable political disagreements. I explain both why we often mistakenly assume that our political disagreements are unreasonable and how to avoid this error.

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Liberalism in the Balance http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/01/liberalism-in-the-balance/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/01/liberalism-in-the-balance/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2017 15:43:49 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11536 What the new president has done in his first few days in office has hardly been surprising, even as it’s profoundly horrific. What has surprised me is the reaction by...

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What the new president has done in his first few days in office has hardly been surprising, even as it’s profoundly horrific. What has surprised me is the reaction by some libertarians, including at least one libertarian educational institution in a mass email, which has been along the lines of “well he’s doing some good things too and you can’t ignore them.” They then point to his desire to get rid of the ACA and several of his Cabinet and other appointments that suggest there will be deregulation (e.g. Betsy DeVos, Andrew Pudzer, Scott Pruitt, and Tom Price). Or they point to his talk of tax cuts. So, they argue, libertarians should be acknowledging the good stuff and taking advantage of an opporutnity here for positive change instead of just seeing Trump as Cheeto Mussolini.

They couldn’t be more wrong in my view. What they fail to recognize is that the Bad Things that Trump is doing are Very Bad Things and that the Good Things they are hoping for are both much less important than the Very Bad Things and much less likely to happen. One friend has created a ledger document that lists the good on one side and the bad on the other. The problem with that ledger is that it is unweighted. A small tax cut, or freezing the minimum wage are, in my view, an order of magnitude less morally important than authorizing torture, suggesting Muslim registries, closing the border to refugees, ignoring the Constitution and the rule of law, revving up the US war machine, trying to muzzle the media, building a wall, undoing decades of peace and prosperity-enhancing global trade, threatening to send troops to Chicago, and so forth.

I am as much of a radical libertarian as anyone, but I cannot fathom how self-described libertarians can think that marginal tax cuts, lighter FDA regulation, or even getting rid of the ACA (all of which I think would be welcome) even come close to balancing out the illiberal and inhumane policies listed above. The power given the state in those items in Trump’s agenda are a fundamental threat to liberalism and to domestic and global peace.

He is a baboon flinging shit at the liberal tradition and the liberal order, while some libertarians sit around, covered with it, thinking that the drink of water he’s promising them later somehow offsets it.

Why some, and I emphasize this is just “some,” libertarians have adopted this view is what puzzles me. I have several possible explanations:

  1. Too many libertarians are too focused on economics and are less concerned with other parts of the liberal order, especially the formal and informal political institutions that are equally necessary for a free society. It’s not just the anarchists here, but rather a large blind spot about the politics of liberalism and the nature of its institutions and their functions that affects even those who see a role for the state. This is a missing element of the contemporary liberal intellectual tradition as co-blogger Jacob has pointed out.
  1. Too many libertarians hate the left more than they love liberty. One response I’ve heard to my pushing back on their take on Trump is that “well Obama/Clinton was/would have been worse!” No, actually he wasn’t and I don’t think she would have been. Yes, they might have expanded the regulatory state, but there would be no revival of torture, no wall, no registry, no trade war, no attempt to muzzle the media, etc.. Trump is a tin-pot dictator wannabe (and startingtobe), without an ounce of knowledge or respect for constitutional limits on government, who threatens the foundational institutions of the liberal order. Obama was not. Clinton is not. I confess to some schadenfreude myself as the left squirms in the aftermath of a defeat they didn’t see coming. But every time Trump opens his mouth, the fundamental threat to liberty he and his supporters embody overwhelms that. Now, more than ever, libertarians need good-hearted, open-minded people on the left as allies in an attempt to preserve the things we agree on. We should never let our frustrations with the left become more important than preserving the liberal order.
  1. I suspect too that for some libertarians, there is indeed a kind of “America first” attitude going on here. Notice that almost everything on the “plus” side of the ledger are policies that primarily affect Americans. School choice, ending the ACA, deregulation at the FDA or Labor, and even tax cuts are policies that pretty much exclusively affect Americans. On the other side, torture, trade, immigration, refugees, and war are things that have major effects on citizens in the rest of the world. Dammit, libertarians, they count too. The liberal vision has always been a global, cosmopolitian one, and there are no grounds for saying the interests of Americans trump (as it were) those of the rest of the globe.

And here is where the weighting issue returns: the gains to the rest of the world from being able to trade with Americans and emigrate, or get refugee status, here, are enormous. Freeing up the global movement of goods, services, and people is the single most valuable thing we could do to reduce global poverty and improve the lives of billions. The lost opportunities to do so that will come from raising trade and immigration barriers represent a welfare loss far greater than the gains that would come (if they even happen) from marginal cuts in taxes or regulation. As important as school choice, for example, is to poor Americans, the opportunity to sell goods and services in the US market or migrate here for work is far more valuable to the rest of the globe.

No libertarianism worth its name should ever accept those kinds of fundamental restrictions on the rights of humans, and their freedom to peacefully provide for themselves and their families, in exchange for the pot of gruel of the promise of some tax cuts and deregulation.

Nor should any libertarianism worth its name think for a second that there is some sort of equal moral weighting between those promised economic policies and the return of state-sponsored torture, or troops in the streets of Chicago, or cozying up to Putin, or saber-rattling with the rest of the world.

There’s no moral equivalence here. There are just a whole lot of Very Bad Things that are really happening right now. You can create all the balance sheets you want, but if you don’t understand that some things are far more important than others, you are not blind like the impartial scale of justice, but blind instead to the future of liberalism that hangs in that balance.

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Some Thoughts on Identity Politics http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/thoughts-identity-politics/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/thoughts-identity-politics/#comments Sun, 27 Nov 2016 17:22:37 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11437 I have been thinking lately about identity politics. More precisely, why so many people deeply committed to nondiscrimination nevertheless are uncomfortable with identity politics. An initial difficulty is to define...

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I have been thinking lately about identity politics. More precisely, why so many people deeply committed to nondiscrimination nevertheless are uncomfortable with identity politics.

An initial difficulty is to define identity politics. Here’s the definition in the Google dictionary: Identity politics is “a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.” (For expository convenience, I will group these identity criteria under the terms “ethnicity” and “ethnic status”). This definition focuses on political alliances. An obvious criticism of such tendency is to observe that people can pursue worthy goals more effectively by forming broad-based alliances (some have criticized Hillary Clinton’s campaign on that score). Such approach is entirely pragmatic: political goals are more likely to be achieved if more people participate in the movement.

A second definition of identity politics is the idea that ethnic groups are entitled to benefits (usually coercively obtained) by virtue of their ethnic status. At first blush, this does not seem very appealing: to say that I’m entitled to a benefit B by virtue of my ethnic status sounds, well, not nice. But, of course, identity politics understood in this way, to be persuasive, must be linked to some other narrative. One is a history of past injustice. If so, my claim that I am entitled to a benefit B by virtue of my being a Latino is a short-hand for the claim that I am entitled to B as compensation or redress for the wrongs inflicted on Latinos now or in the past. Being Latino, by itself, does not suffice to generate the claim. A common criticism of this position is that these claims are hard to sort out, and often result in benefitting or punishing undeserving people.

A very different narrative is diversity, the current dominant rationale for ethnic preferences. I, a Latino, am entitled to a benefit B because possessing that benefit will promote a public good, diversity in the workplace or the classroom, or diversity among those who will get the benefit B. A common criticism of this position is that, in the real world, it applies only to groups that have political clout. It does not apply to everyone who can contribute to diversity, such as conservatives or libertarians, for example, or even to ethnic groups out of favor. If the claim is amended to embrace all diversity, then it ceases to be identity politics (it still may be open to objections, but those are beyond my concern here).

There is another dimension of identity politics. It is the idea that who states a proposition is relevant to the truth of that proposition. This is mistaken. “As a Latino, I support affirmative action!” is a non-sequitur (or a tautology simply saying that I support affirmative action). The validity of an argument depends on the facts and sound reasoning about those facts. They do not (cannot) depend on who the speaker is. Sure, someone may be prone to identify a new argument because of who she is. As an example, feminists did a great service when they showed why the common law of rape was unjust. But that speaks to what Popper calls the context of discovery of a proposition. It doesn’t speak to the context of justification of that proposition. So, one who says, “as a Latino, I believe X, Y, and Z” is invoking an irrelevant reason in favor of the truth of X,Y, and Z. The correct statement would be: “I believe X, Y, and Z are true for reasons A, B, and C. And I was motivated to think about X, Y, and Z because I am a a Latino.”

These are preliminary thoughts. A more definitive assessment of identity politics requires further research into each of these versions of the concept and the available objections.

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A Theory of Justice, Post-Trump Edition http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/theory-justice-post-trump-edition/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/theory-justice-post-trump-edition/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 20:46:40 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11398 John Rawls famously argues that we should think about principles of justice from behind a “veil of ignorance.” How robust would you like the protection of religious freedom to be...

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John Rawls famously argues that we should think about principles of justice from behind a “veil of ignorance.” How robust would you like the protection of religious freedom to be if you had no idea whether you turn out to be a Christian, Muslim, atheist, etc.? How would you like income to be distributed if you had no idea whether you’ll be rich or poor?

If there’s a chance that you’ll be part of an unpopular religious minority, you’ll want to make sure religious liberty is taken seriously. If there’s a chance you’ll be among society’s poorest, you’ll want the economic institutions that do the best job of alleviating poverty.

In a Rawlsian spirit, I suggest that when we theorize about the institutions we’d like for our society, we ask ourselves the following:

  • How expansive would we like executive powers to be if they might be wielded by Donald Trump?
  • What do we want the Department of the Interior to do knowing that it might be run by Sarah Palin?
  • How powerful should the Department of Education be in light of the possibility it could be headed by Ben Carson?

(These questions aren’t pulled out of thin air.) If there’s a chance that the Department of Education will be run by someone who thinks the Big Bang is a “fairy tale,” you might want to scale back its power, just to be safe.

This is an old thought. Hayek says it goes back to Adam Smith. On Hayek’s view, Smith’s concern

was not so much with what man might occasionally achieve when he was at his best but that he should have as little opportunity as possible to do harm when he was at his worst. It would scarcely be too much to claim that the main merit of the individualism which he and his contemporaries advocated is that it is a system under which bad men can do least harm. It is a social system which does not depend for its functioning on our finding good men for running it, or on all men becoming better than they now are, but which makes use of men in all their given variety and complexity, sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes intelligent and more often stupid (“Individualism and Economic Order,” page 12).

Classical liberals like Smith and Hayek have a point. Now would be a good time for us to revisit it.

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Healing Through Decentralization http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/healing-through-decentralization/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/healing-through-decentralization/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 16:24:10 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11385 Donald J. Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. He was elected in perhaps the most polarized election of the last 100 years. We have, more and more,...

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Donald J. Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. He was elected in perhaps the most polarized election of the last 100 years. We have, more and more, two cultural-political tribes in the United States. And the red tribe’s hatred for the blue tribe beat the blue tribe’s hatred of the red tribe. On social media, and in the press, many people grasp the consequences of this division. Trump is what happens in a country where people so despise one another’s politics that they will either elect a man who is manifestly unqualified or insult and despise everyone who voted for him. If we hope to move forward, it would be wonderful if we could depolarize and compromise on pressing issues. But sentiment is not enough. Healing requires political decentralization.

Polarization Isn’t Going Away

While researching for my forthcoming book, Must Politics Be War?, I’ve been reading a lot of literature on political polarization. One important question is whether the increase in party polarization over the last fifty years is the cause or the effect of polarization among the public. A second important question is whether the public is polarized, or whether party polarization simply makes it appear that way.

In his new book, Polarizedpolitical scientist James Campbell develops a theory of revealed polarization which holds that the American electorate is highly polarized and was not always so (53). Polarization may have increased recently, but Americans became highly polarized in the mid to late 1960s. The parties began to polarize in the late 1970s to early 1990s and it has only gotten worse, but they are merely coming to reflect long-existing divisions among the general public.

If Campbell is right, Americans disagree with each other a lot and have for fifty years. Our disagreements are long-standing and they aren’t going away. And since we disagree, and suffer from in-group bias, our tendency will be to see those who disagree as alien and different and insist that they have nasty motives and suffer severe cognitive deficits. Of course, this perception is partly driven by the fact that many red tribers and blue tribes have nasty motives and grave cognitive deficits when it comes to political matters. But complaining about that isn’t getting us anywhere either.

In my book, I argue that our deep disagreements about the good and justice are often reasonable, and are likely to endure. In light of that, I argue that we can establish a morally valuable kind of social trust across our ideological differences through several institutional reforms, and most of them involve the decentralization of power. Our polarization is socially destructive because we insist on making decisions collectively when we can’t even begin to agree on what the collective decision should be.

Decentralization Through Freedom of Association

I argue that freedom of association is absolutely critical to sustaining relations of social trust across difference, even if it allows people to retreat further into their echo chambers. This is because our attempts to control each others’ forms of association are a source of severe conflict. Attempts to ban same-sex marriage have created huge ill-will, as have attempts to compel religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriage. Attempts to force religious organizations to provide contraception has helped to make religious liberty, once a widely affirmed liberty even twenty years ago, into a partisan issue. I fully expect universities to come under renewed scrutiny under a Trump administration, and I fully expect universities to continue to exclude diverse viewpoints from campus, and to stigmatize conservative and religious organizations on campus.*

Freedom of association allows people with deeply divergent values live out their conceptions of the good and justice in peace with one another. Attempts to restrict this liberty create division and distrust. If we decentralize more power to associations, we can reap the benefits of social peace.

Decentralization Through Federalism

I also argue that federalism is a critical mechanism for reducing division. In some parts of the country, the red tribe and the blue tribe live in close proximity. But in some states, one tribe is dominant. It is better, on balance, to let each tribe dominate in those locales rather than trying to defeat one another at the national level. Healthcare policy has proven incredibly divisive, even hateful. Education policy creates increasing division. Drug policy has been a disaster. If we make decisions at the state or local level, we will have more flexibility in figuring out how each tribe wants to govern itself, such that they will have less of a stake in trying to govern and control the other tribe.

That’s not to say that we should do nothing federally. Foreign policy is invariably national, and racial policy should remain national. But we can do much more at the state and local level. I argue this would help depolarize us without eliminating our ongoing disagreements.

Potential for Abuse

Of course, both freedom of association and federalism can be abused. As Jacob Levy has reminded us, decentralization can make us vulnerable to bigotry and local tyranny. Yet we can nonetheless err too much in the centralist direction. I think it’s clear that we have swung too far in the centralist direction. Presidents have so much power that the red tribe and the blue tribe should fear government by the other.

But if we are prepared to give up some of our power over one another, we can live together better. We will, of course, still have our disagreements. But freedom of movement between different communities would allow people to self-sort and form communities with the like-minded without having to despise and rage against their red or blue overlords.

Centuries ago, we had similar fights about religious establishment. Protestants and Catholics feared that the other group endangered the eternal salvation of millions. And yet, after lots of awful conflict, they figured out a tolerant solution that decentralized religious establishment. Neither side liked the solution at first. But over the centuries, both came to accept and cherish their religious freedom. But if we are willing to trust one another enough to decentralize power, we don’t have to agree about how to live; we need merely agree about the level at which collective decisions must be made. That agreement is surely more practical and moral than what we’ve been doing for the last few decades.

Lesson

We can heal, but to do so, we must decentralize power. To live together, we must do less together.

 

*I am not arguing that governments should restrict universities’ right to exclude those who disagree with their values. That’s part of their freedom of association. But I also think that universities should cut it out.

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