Saturday, October 29, 2011

Responding to Jon Stewart

So, remember the other day when I posted a link to reddit's section for Austrian economics? Well, there was a gem up today where a posted linked to this episode of The Daily Show, then included a set of 19 statements he wanted to hear responses to. Since I'm always long-winded, I decided to post here, that way everyone get's to know exactly what I think which is a win for us all, right? Be warned, it's really long, but I have done a bit of editing to trim things down a bit, so just remember that it was even longer...

  1. Is government the antithesis of liberty?
    Depends on your definitions. The typical anarcho-capitalist view of government is a body which is authorizes to commit aggression (initiating force against an innocent party). So, in this view, yes. A body could exist that does everything that the government does (police, judges, roads, etc.) without coercion, but then by definition it wouldn't be a government.
  2. One of the things that enhances freedoms are roads. Infrastructure enhances freedom. A social safety net enhances freedom.
    First of all, assuming that roads and infrastructure wouldn't exist or would be inferior to what the government provides is a fallacy. But that's a long argument I won't have here.
    Secondly, this is another definition thing. Freedom means the uninhibited ability to exercise your rights. There are different schools of thoughts on rights, but a common one distills them all down to property rights: what you own you are permitted to use in any way except one that infringes on someone else's ability to use his own property as he wishes (This is technically not correct, but the nuances are pretty detailed and again there's not room here to have that discussion).
  3. What should we do with the losers that are picked by the free market?
    This is difficult to answer for several reasons, but I'll try. First of all, you want business ventures that the market doesn't support to fail, because they means that society as a whole is diminished. The average wealth after free exchange is increased overall, as each exchange is mutually beneficial, so people are a lot better off in aggregate. The "poor" would arguably be much better off than many people these days, much like the poorest 5% of Americans are, as a group, on the same economic level as the richest 5% of India's population. So the easy answer is that, by actually having free market, you're helping the "losers" themselves just as much as you're helping the population. Sure, extreme cases might still exist (disabilities, etc), but there will likely be even greater generosity in the face of greater prosperity, much like there's plenty of philanthropy these days.
  4. Do we live in a society or don't we? Are we a collective? Everybody's success is predicated on the hard work of all of us; nobody gets there on their own. Why should it be that the people who lose are hung out to dry? For a group that doesn't believe in evolution, it's awfully Darwinian.
    Posted earlier on this in response to Elizabeth Warren's quote, so go read that for the full answer. Short answer: yes, no one gets where they are alone in a free market. But if I make a million dollars, that means that I have given some group of people something they value more than a million dollars. Then see the previous answer about the "losers." Finally, the comment about Darwinism is a nonsequiter and not even true, so needs no real comment.
  5. In a representative democracy, we are the government. We have work to do, and we have a business to run, and we have children to raise.. We elect you as our representatives to look after our interests within a democratic system.
    In a free market people can still "elect" someone to safeguard their liberties, but it's with money, which does not require taking their liberties in order to provide it. Democracy, as long as it's never involving coercion, is fine. The problem arises when one group can vote to violate the liberty of anybody who doesn't consent.
  6. Is government inherently evil?
    See first response. I don't say that it's evil, but it's wrong on a legal level. Evil is in the moral domain, which is ultimately a religious question.
  7. Sometimes to protect the greater liberty you have to do things like form an army, or gather a group together to build a wall or levy.
    This comes back to definition of liberties. If a fire burns down my house, there has been no loss of liberty, only a loss of property. Unfortunate, but not aggression (unless a person was responsible for it, in which case I could argue that the guilty person has consented to have force used against him to punish/exact retribution/reparation for the loss. There have been arguments on how private national defense would work that I can't get into here, but ultimately each person should bear a greater portion of having to protect himself (which is why the second amendment is so important). However, the government's track record on an army is abysmal: drafts are never justified, ever. Funding an army should ideally be done through voluntary donations. And look at how wasteful our government is at spending money on the army: We don't need this big an army, first of all, and could have a much more effective one for a fraction of the cost if there was real accountability.
  8. As soon as you've built an army, you've now said government isn't always inherently evil because we need it to help us sometimes, so now.. it's that old joke: Would you sleep with me for a million dollars? How about a dollar? -Who do you think I am?- We already decided who you are, now we're just negotiating.
    I don't think there's much to add, save that this is pretty much the issue that divides minarchists from anarcho-capitalists. Some people argue that private armies could provide all the protection we need, and if that's the case it would be better than having a state army because no liberty has to be infringed.
  9. You say: government which governs least governments best. But that were the Articles of Confederation. We tried that for 8 years, it didn't work, and went to the Constitution.
    The only way the Articles "didn't work" was from the perspective of creating a United States of America. There was no "free market" at the time, so it's not a case of free market failing and government being better, it's a case of one inferior government being replaced by another slightly more codified form. No powers came into being with the Constitution, it just regulated a few things under a central body.
  10. You give money to the IRS because you think they're gonna hire a bunch of people, that if your house catches on fire, will come there with water.
    Another pointless comment. If that's the case, then I could choose to pay them for fire protection if I wanted to. If I don't they don't come. Otherwise, I'm not allowed to decide, so I'm sacrificing liberty to (possibly) protect property. Also, it would be a very interesting trial to look at all government spending and determine precisely how much of it is a fee for a service.
  11. Why is it that libertarians trust a corporation, in certain matters, more than they trust representatives that are accountable to voters? The idea that I would give up my liberty to an insurance company, as opposed to my representative, seems insane.
    But a corporation is a representative that you have personally chosen, instead of one with a 50% (or greater) chance to have been chosen for you by someone else. As free market people have repeatedly pointed out, absent fraud or coercion (for which there are many proposed methods for prevention, some with and others without government) you always get what you want when you trade. If you aren't satisfied with what a corporation is providing for what they're asking, you keep your money. Full liberty. Yes, you can't have everything you want, but that's economics: resources are scarce, so you have to choose which ones you value most out of what you can get.
  12. Why is it that with competition, we have such difficulty with our health care system? ..and there are choices within the educational system.
    In both healthcare and education the government has intervened in ways that interfere with competition and prices, which are the communication used by buyers and sellers to coordinate competition. Healthcare has essentially been mandated to be a privatized socialized system (which makes no sense, hence the major issues). There should be no government mandates on what a plan must cover. This has made a system where a third part pays, which breaks all free market coordination almost completely. There are other details at play, but that's it in a nutshell. The case for education is a little different, but rather than giving all the details I'll just give this example:
    You're hungry, and want an apple to eat. I've got one I'm willing to sell for 5$, and Mr. Gubs has one he'll sell for $4, but it has a bad spot in it (or a worm, or both). In a free market, you decide if you want the one for $4 with the defects or would rather pay $5 to have the better one. Now when the government is involved, they go ahead and take the $4 from you before you get to decide, then offer you a choice: either you can take their apple without paying any more, or you can go to me and pay me the $5, making my apple cost a total of $9. Some people are still interested, and they go to private school. But many people won't or can't pay $9 for the better apple, so they make do. Competition, but not free competition.
  13. Would you go back to 1890?
    Assuming that the question here is specifically in regards to economics and government intervention: yes, but the answer needs some explanation. Progress has happened since 1890. Some of it had government involvement, some of it was against government involvement. I won't waste time playing the "what would have happened" game here. Most things we credit government for were trends started before any intervention, but the assumption that those trends would have continued may or may not be valid. But I would like to point out that, even if 1890 was better in terms of liberty, that's not the ideal. Abraham Lincoln showed great contempt for liberty throughout his terms, so many of the problems in our government date back before 1890. All in all, I'd much rather start now with a fresh take on liberty rather than just try the "roll back" approach.
  14. If we didn't have government, we'd all be in hovercrafts, and nobody would have cancer, and broccoli would be ice-cream?
    Sort of an extended case of the above: if we can't say what would have happened about past events, then extrapolating from those events we can't determine into their future would be even worse. But, yes, I generally think we'd be better off,but maybe in ways I can't even imagine.
  15. Unregulated markets have been tried. The 80’s and the 90’s were the robber baron age. These regulations didn't come out of an interest in restricting liberty. What they did is came out of an interest in helping those that had been victimized by a system that they couldn't fight back against.
    A) No they weren't not in the way you think. way too long, but the history you're taught is tweaked to give that impression and even the journalism of the day was heavily slanted. Rockefeller was a greedy, driven businessman. And we owe him for standardizing an industry so that it's possible to get gas for your car from any station, not just the ones owned by its manufacturer. And he saved the whales from extinction. And I'm not kidding about that. Plus, he never had a monopoly, and every person in this country is very much better off thanks to him. And would probably be even better if the government hadn't stolen from him, but see last answer.
    B) Most of the "robber barons" had significant government support. And keep in mind that without government hiding things behind the scenes, many of the abuses that happen to consumers today would be far more obvious.
  16. Why do you think workers that worked in the mines unionized?
     Lumping this and the next one together to save time and space.
  17. Without the government there are no labor unions, because they would be smashed by Pinkerton agencies or people hired, or even sometimes the government.
    Unions are, as Napolitano said,  perfectly compatible with libertarian policy. People are free to associate and coordinate their action as a group. Essentially, unions are the same as consumer boycott: if people care enough to spend the time and effort getting organized, more power to them. The problem is when the law steps in and tries to make it illegal for one or the other parties to act in certain ways. Specifically, it's illegitimate for the government to punish a business for firing employees who have unionized. If I'm the one paying the people, and I fear that the union is going to raise my prices for labor, it's my right to fire them now and get new employees. This limits employees somewhat, true, but it makes them actually have to negotiate in good faith. Again, free exchange, without coercion, is superior to forced exchange. Also, note that in a free market there would be more competition, so firing your employees en masse would be dangerous: you've just released a large group of people into the market that you paid to train that will be highly desirable to your competitors, who might be more than willing to offer some of the benefits you declined, so that's where the businesses are kept in check.
  18. Would the free market have desegregated restaurants in the South, or would the free market have done away with miscegenation, if it had been allowed to? Would Martin Luther King have been less effective than the free market? Those laws sprung up out of a majority sense of, in that time, that blacks should not.. The free market there would not have supported integrated lunch counters.
    Same as earlier, this speculation is more or less pointless. But in a free market, odds are all these things would have still happened, maybe with far less strife overall. But, key point, in a free market, if I want to open a cafe for white people only, that's perfectly fine, from a legal standpoint. It's probably suicide from a business standpoint, as it gives someone else the opportunity to basically copy my business plan, but simply make it available to other ethnicity, and they'd probably clobber me financially and I'd be driven out of business. Racial injustice didn't end because the government started doing things, the government was simply responding to the change in people that had already begun. That change would almost certainly have happened either way, and would likely have achieved the same end, or better. Also, it should be pointed out that there was tremendous legal policy that promoted racism, so perhaps the greatest victory for the Civil Rights era was getting racist government policies out of the way.
  19. Government is necessary but must be held accountable for its decisions.
    First of all, there are plenty who argue that government is not necessary, and that, in fact, we'd be better off without it. But even assuming your first statement, we find that this is one of the major problems. Right now, government is held accountable by, you guessed it, the government. Theoretically the people keep track of things, but how does that work? Those of us who try to keep the government accountable are laughed at and called "insane." Ultimately people are the failure, which is why Franklin is reported to have told someone that America was to be a "Republic, if you can keep it." We've proved that, as a whole, we can't. So those of us fighting this fight need to double down and keep trying to get people to understand how much better things could be.

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