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Posts Tagged ‘debate’

A pretty great post by Megan McArdle on open-mindedness, spite and political polarization.

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I would not be doing my job as a libertarian blogger if I did not link to the blog war between Todd Seavey on the one hand and Kerry Howley/Will Wilkinson on the other (with minor roles played by Helen Rittelmeyer and Julian Sanchez). The best link (in the sense that it points to almost all the other relevant links) is the post by Todd above; navigate from there! Keep in mind that all the characters in the fight are multiply related — not only are they all writers for Reason magazine but there is a complex boyfriend/girlfriend/ex-boyfriend web that connects them — as Todd triumphantly describes. Enjoy!

I will not take sides except to say that in their own ways, both Todd and Kerry are right. Todd is right in what the political or legislative aspect of libertarianism ought to concern itself with. State coercion is fundamentally different from social coercion, maximizing negative liberties is the correct political prescription, property rights do lie at the heart of freedom.

Let me be clear — I am not dismissing the importance of positive liberty. However, demands that too much positive liberty be provided by the state invariably leads to authoritarianism, as history has shown again and again. Moreover, the curtailment of your basic property and personal rights, in a purely moral sense, is in a different plane from not being able to make the most of your life. If anything, this distinction between negative and positive liberty (and between state and social coercion) is the essence of libertarianism.

But Kerry is also right that situations exist that do not involve state coercion but nonetheless are liberty-restricting, at least in the way the term ‘liberty’ is commonly used. The question is what is the right way to address these problems. If Kerry believes the correct way is through voluntary, social means, then I am completely with her. If, on the other hand, she thinks that the law should step in, then I agree with Todd that her views are incompatible with libertarianism.

As for Will Wilkinson, I do not quite know what to make of him. He is obviously very smart. He has written gloriously intelligent posts in the past — like this one — that are logically and intellectually perfect. He has, on multiple occasions, authored passionate defences of libertarianism such as this post from only a few weeks back. He has also written sentences like this:

[If libertarianism is the view] that coercive limits to liberty are justified only in defense of private property, or in the enforcement of contracts, then libertarianism is false, and I am not a libertarian.

which convince me that in his moral core he is not a libertarian but a liberal; it is only his impeccable analysis that so often lead him to libertarian solutions. I guess I’ll still take the bargain!

All this of course, reminds me of this gem of an anecdote by Milton Friedman:

I particularly recall a discussion [by a group of libertarian economists] on this issue, in the middle of which Ludwig Von Mises stood up, announded to the assembly “You are all a bunch of socialists”, and stormed out of the group.

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In an article published at Newsweek and Slate, Jacob Weisberg says the current crisis proves that “[libertarianism] makes no sense”. In fact he goes further than that:

Like other ideologues, libertarians react to the world’s failing to conform to their model by asking where the world went wrong. Their heroic view of capitalism makes it difficult for them to accept that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk, and misallocate resources or that financial systems without vigorous government oversight and the capacity for pragmatic intervention constitute a recipe for disaster. They are bankrupt, and this time, there will be no bailout.

Just In case you did not get his point, the article is titled “The end of libertarianism”.

The libertarian response has been swift and predictable. The Washington Post has an editorial today that makes several nice points:

The problem with the U.S. economy, more than lack of regulation, has been government’s failure to control systemic risks that government itself helped to create. We are not witnessing a crisis of the free market but a crisis of distorted markets.

[…] Government must be more selective about manipulating markets; over the long term, business works best when it is subject to market discipline alone. In those cases — and there will and should be some — in which government intervenes on behalf of social goals, its support must be counterbalanced with taxpayer protections and regulation. Government-sponsored, upside-only capitalism is the kind that’s in crisis today, and we say: Good riddance.

Meanwhile Matt Welch over at Reason points out that the rational approach is to weigh things against the alternative:

I just think that, all things being equal, capitalism is vastly superior to socialism, government is by definition inefficient, and would be much better off focused on essential tasks, rather than, say, nationalizing hundred-billion-dollar chunks of the mortgage industry, or trying to guarantee that asset prices never depreciate. In my world, at least, not all regulation is automatically evil, just ripe for being gamed by the very interests being regulated, and so better when pruned back.

Ilya Somin’s rebuttal at Volokh has several nice points, including this one, which seems to echo Welch:

No ideology can be judged solely by its performance in one particular crisis. Any set of policies is imperfect and therefore may provide flawed answers in a particular situation. Here is where Weisberg’s analogy with communism circa 1989 breaks down. The problem with communism was not that communists had handled some one isolated crisis poorly. It is that communism’s overall record over many decades was one of repression, mass murder, and economic decline – all with few or no offsetting benefits. Economic liberalization over the last several decades, by contrast, has lifted millions out of poverty around the world and greatly increased both personal freedom and standards of living. As Gary Becker points out, the period of economic liberalization in the twenty years or so prior to Bush’s “big government conservatism” saw enormous economic gains. He suggests that if today’s crisis were indeed an inevitable result of that liberalization, the overall balance sheet (25 years of massive progress vs. 2-3 years of painful recession) might be worth it.

Others, such as Cato’s Brink Lindsey have taken Weisberg to task for his simplistic analysis:

So serious people will be debating what triggered the current crisis for a long time to come. I’ve been reading voraciously in recent weeks, trying to get some handle on what’s going on, and I can tell you that there is nothing like a consensus among scholars yet — and certainly not a consensus in favor of some simple, monocausal explanation.

With regard to government interventionism as a cause of the crisis, Charles Calomiris and Peter Wallison have marshalled strong evidence that Fannie and Freddie played a major role in inflating the real estate bubble. Despite the fact that these two gentlemen have forgotten more about financial markets than Weisberg will ever know, Weisberg dismisses their analysis as not only wrong, but risible.

Here’s what I think, at least at this point. I think the whole system failed. Without a doubt, private actors succumbed to bubble psychology and perverse incentives, and their risk-taking grew increasingly reckless. Yet Weisberg’s simplistic morality tale that good prudent liberals were foiled by go-go free-marketeers doesn’t come close to mapping reality accurately. When exactly did Democrats try to arrest and reverse the steady relaxation of lending standards? When did they try to rein in the GSEs? Meanwhile, European banks are being battered by this crisis as well. Does anybody really think that European financial regulators are closet libertarians?

Aristotle The Geek, on the other hand, says that utilitarian apologies for libertarianism are self-defeating — liberty must be defended on purely moral grounds:

I dislike (hate is a better word) utilitarianism and utilitarian defenses of liberty. Since a lot of liberals and weak kneed capitalists defended capitalism on utilitarian grounds and went on about how capitalism and free markets were good because they raised standards of living, brought about competition, etc, instead of saying that free markets are right because they are free, because freedom is right, because freedom is moral, these “defenders” find themselves unable to answer criticisms regarding “market failure”. Blaming bad laws and excessive regulation, though these are to blame, does not cut it.

I will not go into a detailed analysis on why the libertarians are right and Weisberg is wrong (or at least dishonest). The question I want to address in this post is of a different flavor:

What do Weisberg’s article and its libertarian rebuttals achieve?

Here’s my radical suggestion: They achieve nothing.

There are some features that are common to every article — by both sides — on this topic I have seen. They cherry-pick facts. They deflate the opponent’s views and inflate their own. Every sentence is intended to further their own cause. In short, they counter, not analyze.

I am not saying that both sides are wrong. I do happen to think my side has the better arguments. In sum though, we are approaching this whole issue as if it were a debate.

Now there is nothing wrong with a debate. The problem though is that we have seen all these points many many times. None of the articles I have quoted above contain any fundamentally new points of view. Basically, there has appeared a flood of arguments since this crisis started but little attempt at unbiased analysis. We are all guilty of this extreme partisanship — yes, I am too.

It’s like we are stuck in different ideological echo-chambers. And there are intelligent people on both sides. And you know what, none of them are changing their minds. Weisberg’s article is not going to convince anyone who is not already on his side. And the libertarians aren’t going to win any Weisberg types — or even any moderately liberal types — over with their responses.

So here’s my humble suggestion to everyone. Analyze rather than attack. It will be difficult, especially when you think that the other side is spouting nonsense. But bite the bullet and address your opponent’s strongest arguments. Do so logically, unbiasedly. Take the best arguments from both sides — if you feel the other side isn’t making its point correctly, try to help them — and the most accurate data available to you and reason as if there was nothing at stake, except rigor and accuracy. Get beyond bumper-sticker sloguns and into details. Ultimately your ideas and arguments must stand on their own. Do not be afraid of the possibility that they may lose, at least temporarily.

There is a word for this approach. It is called intellectual honesty. And it is our best bet at conversion.

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The polling seems to be getting stronger for Obama with every passing day. Five Thirty Eight currently gives Obama a 95.8% chance of winning the election, and that is after accounting for some tightening of the polls in the coming weeks.

More astoundingly, no fewer than seven current polls show Obama with a double-digit lead nationally.

Nate Silver writes:

It’s fairly unusual for a candidate to have such a sustained run of momentum so deep into the campaign cycle. And it does appear to be real momentum, with some real feedback loops: the worse McCain’s poll numbers become, the more desperate his campaign looks, and the more desperate his campaign looks, the worse his poll numbers become.

McCain now has to go on a run of his own, a large enough run to wipe at least 8 points off of Obama’s lead, and perhaps more like 9 or 10 to cover his inferior position in the Electoral College and the votes that Obama is banking in early and absentee balloting. It is imperative that McCain does not just draw tomorrow night’s debate, does not just win a victory on points, but emerges with a resounding victory, the sort that leaves the spin room gasping for air. Failing that, we are getting into dead girl, live boy territory.

The question is no longer whether Obama will win, but by how much. The electoral college has a size of 540 EVs. If things continue the way they are, Obama will end up winning close to 400 EVs which would be a stunning landslide.

McCain has to completely destroy Obama in tomorrow’s debate to get his campaign back on track. Unfortunately for him, that is about as likely as Sarah Palin writing a dissertation on the theory of evolution.

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I don’t usually agree with the National Review, but this article is bang on the money.

During the presidential debate Tuesday night, Barack Obama was asked if he thought health care was a “right.”

He said he thought it was a right. Well, if you accept that premise, I think you can ask some logical follow-up questions: Food is more important than health care. You die pretty quickly without food. Do we have a “right” to food in America? What about shelter? Do we have a “right” to housing? And if we do have a right to housing, what standard of housing do we have a right to? And if it is a right, due to all Americans, wouldn’t that mean that no one should have to accept any housing, or health care, which is inferior to anyone else’s… since it’s a right?

Do we have a right to be safe? Do we have a right to be comfortable? Do we have a right to wide-screen televisions? Where does this end?

There are a lot of things that a person needs to live a decent life. However, the word “right” implies something much more fundamental — it means that the government is legally bound to provide you that. It is not a word to be used loosely. In the libertarian worldview, the only fundamental rights are those that protect you from the initiation of force. In other words, it means that you have a birthright to free speech, complete sovereignty on your private properties, the freedom to do whatever you want with your body, the right to associate freely with others and to engage in any consensual activity. The law is bound to treat you equally and to protect these freedoms from other citizens and the government irrespective of your wealth or your status.

In other words, you ought to be able to do anything you want provided you respect the equal liberty of others. The freedoms that stem from this basic principle are the only legitimate rights. It is not a big list. However governments already do a terrible job of safeguarding these. Obama ought to strengthen these constitutional rights before pandering to his audience.

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I have my differences with Joe Biden’s policies but I agree with Earl Warren — he will play the attack dog role to perfection. I mean, just watch this amazing clip from last October when Biden was still in the running:

It will be entertaining to watch the VP debates.

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Via Reason Hit and Run, I came across this remarkable snippet from John McCain during the final primary debate:

JANET HOOK: There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the importance of leadership and management experience. What makes you more qualified than Mitt Romney, a successful CEO and businessman, to manage our economy?

MCCAIN: Because I know how to lead. I know how to lead. I led the largest squadron in the United States Navy. And I did it out of patriotism, not for profit. And I can hire lots of managers, but leadership is a quality that people look for. And I have the vision and the knowledge and the background to take on the transcendent issue of the 21st century, which is radical Islamic extremism.

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