Saturday, December 27, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

Dr. Ralph has been the editorial conscience, B.S. detector, and token Democrat on these pages from sometime around day one.
We're both members of Broadway Baptist Church.

When I was asking various people to fill in for my during my vacation this week, one of the topics I sent out was about the challenges faced by libertarians in this dark age of Buddy Bailouts, Crony Capitalism, and Troubled Asset Relief Programs.

I immediately thought of this post that Dr. Ralph did shortly after the election, entitled "To My Libertarian Friends". I've copied it in its entirety, along with a follow up. You can see my (rushed and hurried) reply in the comment field at his blog. I hope this one generates some discussion. Here's Dr. Ralph, winner of the Trotsky Lookalike Contest:

To My Libertarian Friends,

This is probably going to be my last political screed for a while, which affects only the 2 or 3 people who actually read this drivel. But before I drift into discussing things like technology and the folly of everyday life, I wanted to offer up a few final thoughts on the 2008 election.

Amongst my friends and associates of various political persuasions are several Libertarians: all extremely bright, intellectually curious people who are passionately interested in politics. I have a lot of respect for them. I don't necessarily agree with them.

Here's why.

There is a broad range of political beliefs that fall under the designation of "Libertarianism," all of which (to perhaps over-simplify) focus on the elevation of individual liberties and negate the power of the state. To restate: they believe in social freedom and economic freedom without interference and regulation from the government.

Sounds good, no?

The problem is, this ignores the reason all that regulation and interference is there in the first place. Not to put too fine a point on it, but people are jerks. Maybe not individually, but certainly collectively. And there are certainly outstanding examples of individual jerkiness to be found in the wild.

To what extent are we talking about removing "interference," anyway? And by whose definition?

Reforming drug laws and not interfering with people's personal medical and reproductive decisions (read: abortion rights)? I'm good with that. Permitting anyone, regardless of gender, to get married? I'm cool with that, too. The right to own as many assault weapons as I can scrape the money together for? ...You're starting to loose me. And there are a world of people out there for whom the latter example is fine but have major discomfort for the former.

And let's get a little more mundane -- what about something like zoning? Care to have your neighbor set up a rat breeding factory? Don't laugh -- this battle is going on right now in Fort Worth. What about civil rights laws? One could certainly argue they are interfering with someone's property rights.

This may be a reductio ad absurdum argument, but at what point does the absurdum kick in? It's one thing to be for less regulation. The devil is in the details.

Removing "barriers" to free trade is the other major talking point I hear much about: economic deregulation. Much is made of the "Invisible Hand" that is supposed to insure that free and unregulated markets benefit society as a whole.

Excuse me?

This make about as much sense to me as Intelligent Design.

Again, this may sound good in the abstract, but I have little faith in real world application, especially in light of recent events in the financial world. Allen Greenspan, patron saint of deregulation, admitted after after the general market collapse earlier this year that maybe he was wrong in opposing all regulation and stated, "Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder's equity -- myself especially -- are in a state of shocked disbelief."

The Invisible Hand bitch-slapped us.

And the idea that an unregulated John D. Rockefeller type monopoly serves the public interest seems naive at best. People forget that things get regulated for a reason, and the chief reason is to correct past abusive behavior.

After the November election the Libertarians would seem well-positioned to swell their ranks with thinking conservatives disgusted by the mean-spirited, intolerant, xenophobic anti-intellectualism that seemed to have taken over the GOP. So why don't I think the Libertarians will ever move beyond fringe status?

I'm not sure they want to.

As Otto von Bismarck once said, "Politics is the art of the possible." Compromise has come to be a word delivered in a sneer, but in a land as diverse as ours, the ability to work out deals with competing interests is key to being able to govern.

Can the Libertarians compromise their guiding principles? Should they?

It may be they best serve the nation like yeast leavening the loaf, as a source of ideas to be co-opted and co-joined by the majority parties.

Parting shot: here's Stephen Colbert discussing a topic near and dear to my Libertarian friends.


Click here for the video. This particular format makes my site go nuts when I direcly embed it.
Here's a follow up that he wrote just a few days ago:

To My Libertarian Friends, (part 2)

This is a follow up to my previous post, To my Libertarian friends, in which I laid out some of my thoughts and criticisms of the Libertarian Party, which includes amongst its numbers several friends and associates.
To sum up (so you don't have to be bored twice) I have a lot of respect for Libertarians (they tend to be extremely bright, intellectually curious people) but I don't necessarily agree with all of their positions. On economic issues, their faith in the Invisible Hand of the Free Market strikes me as a bit like believing in Intelligent Design. Their take on civil rights, workplace regulations, and some other areas strike me as naive at best.

Where they have my full agreement is in the area of personal freedoms. God bless 'em.To pull a few quotes from the 2008 National Libertarian Party platform:
*We favor the repeal of all laws creating "crimes" without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.
*Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.
*Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships. Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships.

While the Democrats have cautiously embraced the pro-choice issue, they act like someone who farts in the elevator on the issue of gay marriage rights: they conspicuously avoid acknowledging the obvious and hope people forget the whole unpleasant business by the time they arrive at their floor.
Shame on them.
I'd venture to say the Libertarians will continue to see considerable growth in the decade ahead as gay conservatives see them as an alternative to the rabidly fundamentalist anti-intellectual nuthouse the Republican party is becoming.
And I hope they drag the Democrats along, kicking and screaming, for the ride.

Because it's about bloody time.

That's they joy of knowing Dr. Ralph, who posts at his blog, The Journal of Post-Ralphaelite Thought.


Browncoat Libertarian said...

Nice article, Doc. Fortunately(or not), like any party, we LPers have varying degrees of libertarianism. I'm not a "hard core" libertarian in that I believe there is definitely a place for regulation and government(at the city/town level). And as far as monopolies go, I don't think any libertarian is going to say that monopolies are good because they make a "free market", well, not.

I also suggest you pick up Thomas Sowell's book "Basic Economics", because you, like so many others these days are mistakenly blaming the "free market" for the latest economic apocalypse. As long as we have the Fed and entities like Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac (and now AIG), you can hardly call ours a "free market economy". Adam Smith's "invisible hand" has been handcuffed for about a hundred years now.

I pretty much agree with you on the rest of your LP critique though...the anarchist wing of the LP is indeed naive. Thanks for the great post!

vampE said...

Beautifully, eloquently stated, Dr. Ralph. Finally, someone on this site to whom I can look up. (OK, you are taller than me, but I’m talking figuratively.) You are not the token Democrat reading the WS. I just tend to keep my mouth shut because Whited goes all Broadway on me when I log on. But he’s not here! Bwahahaha.

I’ve teased Whited that being Libertarian means that he sounds like he's rebelling and being Super Cool and Way Above It All but he really isn't. Change - OK, even I’m tired of that word – has to come from within. You know the old saying from psychiatrists and counselors and Dear Abby: You cannot change another person; you can only change your reaction to that person. In other words, they can throw their Libertarian water balloons at the citadel of government 24-7, but the only thing that will come of it is that their arms will get tired.

But, like you, I hope that someone with the power to make change might actually listen to the fringe segments, the underrepresented, the trod upon, and chip away at the castle walls from the inside.

Dr Ralph said...

Browncoat -- I've noticed the Libertarians are almost as unified in their thought as the Democrats, which is to say, hardly at all. Perhaps that's their fascination for me.

I feel honored to have been accorded a place amongst all of Whited Sepulchre's luminaries. I guess he thought he needed the comic relief.

Let the turds fly!

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

Hello Dr. Ralphsky,
I enjoyed your post, but I've found several items where I believe you may have missed our point we keep trying to make - and yes, we can make a point without the use of a 9mm. In fact, to join the LP, one must sign a "Oath of non-coercion". Something you might also find favor with...

But to address a few of your points, a good libertarian says the following should be applied to any proposed or existing law to determine its, er, libertarianousness.... ahem "People own themselves AND the property that they obtained without fraud or coercion. As owners, they should be free to do with themselves and their property as they wish - without the intereference of government - providing they don't infringe upon the equal rights of others." That's about it.

So, rat farm in my neighborhood? Uh, not cool, actually per the rules of libertarianism, because in my neighborhood, full of homeowners with decent houses, rat farms would bring down the vaule of my property. Therefore, rat farmer has infringed my right to property and freedom to pursue happiness (i.e. see my home value go up). In an area that is predominantly industrial, that shouldn't be as big of a deal. Ordinarily, we'd be against zoning in favor of deed restrictions, but if a judge can show that you're infringing upon my right to pursue my happiness through not destroying the value of my property, I'm cool with that too.

Now, Greenspan as the measuring post of deregulation? Gimme a break! He was the Chair of the Fed, for goodness sakes. Ultimately a 'regulator' of the economy... The Fed temporarily manipulates and regulates the economy by its tweaking of the Fed Funds rate... He's a joke and no real libertarian sees him as anything but part of the problem. Perhaps he should read the scores of papers written by Austrian and Chicago School economists we love so much (namely Mises, Hayek and Friedman) on why central banks will always undermine the free market.

I beleive that much of the 'deregulation' isn't actually deregulation at all, but a tweaking of the various regulations in our financial system that ultimately helps those who make up the movers and shakers of the financial markets, that is to say, the executives of the various banks/brokerages/insurance co's/hedge funds/etc. For example, I keep hearing about the Collateralized Debt Obligations as if it's some kind of new thing... but we've had these (primarily in the form of mortgage backed securities) for 25 years! However, as you've probably heard, these became worthless after the banks were directed (by the iron hand) of congress to 'invest' in mortgages that were otherwise undo-able prior to recent times. That is, banks and brokerages who would like to have merged to become more viable/competitive were told that they would do no such thing until they made more loans to various unloved groups per the Community Reinvestment Act.

I know, I know - those Credit Default Swaps. THOSE were fraudulently put upon the markets by unscrupulous market makers and those executives who OK'd those/knew about those/or DIDN'T know about those should all be busting rocks and stamping out license plates for their roles in creating an enormous drag on our markets or for their malfesence... Don't have a problem with that at all.

Otto Von Bismarck! What is it with all you Dems and Otto Von Bismarck? Politics is the art and SCIENCE of the possible. I believe you'll find that most of us libertarians, while frequently from the GOP, find the GOP as evil as someone who would steal my money through taxation and give it to whatever looters want to glom onto it. Therefore, I believe you'll find more and more, libertarians crossing the aisle (actually we're not on either side) - but shaking hands with Dems AND GOP to help rain on somebody's parade. We'll work to put whichever out of business in certain districts... all the while, ratcheting up our standings as well. At some point, either the Dems or the GOP will acquiesce and give into our philosophy (probably the GOP since they're reeling right now) - or die (politically, of course - remember our non-coercion pact).

In all, I welcome your continued readings and hope to welcome you to leave the dark side. As you continue to read, I'm sure you'll find that ALL redistributionalist philosophies have failed whether hard core communism in Russia/China or plain ol' socialism (from Nazi Germany to current day France). I guess in the French's defense, they do have 84 days of official vacation time!!

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

Oh - and one more thing since I'm at it... as Browncoat says monopolies aren't good, but more importantly, an actual monopoly can only exist per the iron hand of regulation and the government (see the Bell System pre-brekup, for example). Other various examples of 'monopolies' aren't monopolies at all in the truest sense of the word (Microsoft/Old Standard Oil), but have been popularly tagged as monopolists due to their 'predatory pricing' and 'monopolistic behaviors'. These behaviors include pricing things at a level, while still profitable for the company and beneficial to consumers, puts some poorly run enterprises out of business (like Standard was accused of) or being the first to provide an Operating System, thereby becoming the de facto standard.

Microsoft (disclosure: I'm a former employee) came at the monopoly argument with much hubris. "If you can make a better OS, go crazy!" Of course, they knew it was EXTREMELY difficult to build a decent OS - so, no worries.... Enter Linus Torvalds (Linux) and huge improvements in the MacOS.

So, no, we're not against enterprises providing a service or product and basically owning the market providing that the government doesn't require everyone to use that company's product!

Would a nationalized energy sector be any less of a monopoly? No. It would be a much worse monopoly since the person who controls our oil controls our destiny as a nation (or at least our economy). And government-types who know how to exploit something to increase their power, will tend to do so. Or at least, that's what Thomas Jefferson told me anyway...

Anonymous said...

that TarrantLibertyGuy .sure gets carried away! but I'm sure he had a point.

As one of the un-washed masses that yerns for a smoke friendly environment somewhere!if that means joining the libertarians be it, send me the form.