Saturday, March 29, 2014

A reply to Salon's R. J. Eskrow, and his 11 stupid questions about Libertarians

Posts here have been in short supply as I have been living life and trying to get a campaign off the ground.

But "11 questions to see if Libertarians are hypocrites" by R. J. Eskrow, picked up at Salon, was just so freaking lame that I spent half an hour answering them.

In the end (but I'll leave it to your judgment), it is not that Libertarians or Libertarian theory looks hypocritical, but that the best that can be said for Mr. Eskrow is that he doesn't have the faintest clue what he's talking about.

That's ok, because even ill-informed attacks by people like this make an important point:  Libertarian ideas (as opposed to Conservative ideas, which are completely different) are making a comeback as the dynamic counterpoint to "politics as usual," and so every hack you can imagine must be dragged out to refute them.

Ergo:  Mr. Eskrow's 11 questions, with answers:

1.      Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not?

Of course they are, with the exception of elections.  [Elections are very obviously NOT an example of spontaneous order, but the result of conscious, centralized planning. They are also not congruent with the other items on Mr. Eskrow’s list, because an election is a process rather than a group of people.]  Unfortunately Mr. Eskrow starts off with an immediate lack of understanding of any serious Libertarian theory:  people have the right to organize for any peaceful purpose whether I or anybody else agrees with it or not.  It is only when such emergent movements engage in force or fraud that a Libertarian would object to their existence.  That doesn’t, however, mean that I or anybody else has any obligation whatsoever not to criticize them or work against them, likewise without the use of force or fraud.

2.      Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded?

Mr. Eskrow loves to create straw men.  Production involves all sorts of forces, from raw materials to workers to distribution networks to investors ad infinitum, ad nauseam.  It’s the second part of his question that becomes more panderingly simplistic than the rest of his article.  Who exactly should be doing the “recognizing” and “rewarding”?  Allowing that markets with their imperfections and externalities haven’t always measured up [especially in cases of crony capitalism, on which more below], it’s really important to notice that governments haven’t consistently done a great job, either.  The implicit assumption underlying Mr. Eskrow’s question is that government must intervene to guarantee that each (presumably human) “force” in production is “recognized and rewarded.”  Market anarchists (a subset of Libertarians that Mr. Eskrow never seems to have encountered) would make strong arguments that without the props provided to corporations by governments, a truly free market would result in a better distribution of profits and rewards.

3.      Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces?

Gee, I guess so.  This Libertarian was a union president for six years.  Where I think Mr. Eskrow is way the hell out in right field (yes, “right”) is that he apparently doesn’t understand that Libertarians object to such legislation as the National Labor Relations Act and Taft-Hartley because under the guise of providing government supervision of labor relations, what the State really did was eviscerate the power of unions by making many of their most effective tactics against the corporations illegal.  Stop wasting your time reading Ayn Rand and start reading Kevin Carson.

4.      Is our libertarian willing to admit that a “free market” needs regulation?

The key concept of Libertarianism is the avoidance of force and fraud.  Most (excepting true market anarchists/mutualists) would accept the idea that regulation by government or courts to insure those tenets are not violated is completely legitimate, absolutely necessary.  Libertarians would point out, however, that it is often the case that private entities can provide regulation of free market activities just as efficiently (or even more efficiently) than the government [e.g. Underwriter’s Laboratories].

5.      Does our libertarian believe in democracy? If yes, explain what’s wrong with governments that regulate.

Democracy is a great process, but it is not—as the Framers knew—a great way to run a government, at least not via unfettered, direct democracy.  Just because I am able to manage 50% plus one vote does not mean, for example, that the government should be empowered to eliminate somebody’s inherent rights, nor does having a majority agree make any proposition inherently right, only more popular than others among those who do vote.  For example, the US and State governments imposed and enforced segregation laws for decades that were popular with the majority of voters.  Does Mr. Eskrow defend such laws based purely on the fact that the regulations were promulgated and enforced by democratically elected governments?

6.      Does our libertarian use wealth that wouldn’t exist without government in order to preach against the role of government?

Mr. Eskrow prides himself on having developed the “who would build the roads” argument, when he has merely discovered an economic dynamic that’s been understood for a long, long time.  Sophisticated societies at the agricultural, pre-industrial, industrial, or post-industrial levels require a significant infrastructure and protection from external destructive forces to operate.  Gee, even the Romans, the Persians, the Zimbabweans, and the Incas knew that.  The question becomes one of what is the most effective (and just) way to provide that infrastructure?  There, if you’re honest, the question becomes considerably murkier in a world of governments, trans-national corporations, non-governmental organizations, foundations, etc. etc. all pretty much run by an interchangeable class of elites, whose primary function seems to be a collective agreement to protect their wealth and privileges.

7.      Does our libertarian reject any and all government protection for his intellectual property?

This is really Mr. Eskrow’s only decent question, and it is already outmoded.  Writers like Kevin Carson and Thomas Knapp have changed my own thinking on this, to the point where I do reject government protection for my intellectual property.  Part of the reason for this shift is my understanding of how intellectual property protections are actually (a) exploited by large corporations using government force to lock other people out of the market; and (b) growing increasingly useless in an information age where the very definition of intellectual property is changing more rapidly than the most officious of governments can keep up.  Get into the digital age, Mr. Eskrow, and actually prove you’ve got an understanding of the issue before you start trying to score cheap points.

8.      Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace?

Back to this one again.  Democracy is a “marketplace” of ideas, but the popularity of an idea does not give it moral force or justify the use of force or fraud against people who have not violated the same principles.  No vote by the American people should be able to remove my freedom of speech or freedom of religion, for example, because those areas have been declared off-limits to democracy as basic rights.  Again:  if a majority of people in the US voted to deny citizenship to children born in country due to the immigration status of their parents (“anchor babies”) would the popularity of that idea give it moral force?

9.      Does our libertarian recognize that large corporations are a threat to our freedoms?

More clearly, apparently, than Mr. Eskrow does.  Large corporations in their metastasized modern form are the creation of the government, specifically in a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1870s-1880s, authored by Associate Justice Stephen J. Field, that extended 14th Amendment protections to “artificial persons” and declared them to be effectively immortal.  Corporations exist as tax farmers for the State, in return for which they received protectionist legislation at the expense of small businesses, individual entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers.  Moreover, the corporate elites move seamlessly into and out of government (hello, Goldmann Sachs, hello Treasury Department).  Mr. Eskrow, real Libertarians have been talking about this a lot longer than you have.

10.   Does he think that Rand was off the mark on this one, or does he agree that historical figures like King and Gandhi were “parasites”?

Ayn Rand, Mr. Eskrow, was an Objectivist who actually detested Libertarians.  The fact that many Libertarians and others inaccurately characterize her as the prime intellectual authority of Libertarian ideas has little or nothing to do with two centuries of Libertarian-oriented intellectual, social, and cultural thought that you are apparently wholly ignorant of.  Exactly what part of admiration for two social reformers who preached non-violence on the part of people whose guiding creed is “no force, no fraud” don’t you get?

11.   If you believe in the free market, why weren’t you willing to accept as final the judgment against libertarianism rendered decades ago in the free and unfettered marketplace of ideas?

And when would that have been, Mr. Eskrow?  Since you don’t actually have any understanding of Libertarian thought beyond saying, “Nyah, nyah, Ayn Rand was a selfish bitch,” then how would we expect you to understand that Libertarian ideals of a non-violent, non-coercive society don’t go out of style simply because your preferred crony capitalist state likes to distort them?  Marriage equality?  Advocated by Libertarians for many years.  Likewise marijuana legalization.  Non-interventionist foreign policy.  Limits on police powers of surveillance and arrest.  Libertarians have had an enormous impact on the social and political discussions of the past three decades, but you haven’t noticed, apparently because you were too busy decided which plutocrat (Democrat or Republican) to vote for.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Freedom, cheap buses, journalism

Yesterday's WNJ carried a story entitled Stopping 'Chameleon' Bus Lines is No Easy Task.

Notice first, the assumption inherent in the title:  somebody in authority is trying to look out for you.

Here are the first several paragraphs:  
At the end of 2011, federal regulators slapped a shutdown order on Double Happyness, a private, super-low-cost bus line running from Wilmington to New York’s Chinatown, for what they called “a management philosophy indifferent to motor carrier safety.”
But buses kept running from the station, a spartan storefront at 3 W. Fourth St., under the name New Everyday Bus Tour, a company owned by the brother of Double Happyness’ owner.
Last month, after racking up a long list of violations of its own, New Everyday’s authority, too, was revoked by the U.S. Department of Transportation after it did not provide proof of insurance. And, once again, buses are still running from in front of the station, to the same terminal in New York that both New Everyday Bus and Double Happyness used.
They are now operating under a separate company named Rockledge Bus Tour, which also has a long list of safety citations by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, including failure to make repairs. Although it is still authorized to run, the administration has ranked Rockledge in the bottom 5 percent of U.S. bus carriers for driver safety and fitness.
So what's happening here?  Are doughty, committed regulators attempting to save unwitting passengers from an unsafe experience?  Are we looking at a couple of sleazebags attempting to rip off the public?

Or is something completely different occurring, both in real life and in this story?

The answer is far more complex than that, so if you read on, prepare for a longer ride than usual . . .

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Talking about pollution in Delaware without the lies and evasions

Like the Vichy French police official Louis in Casablanca who was "Shocked! I tell you, shocked!" to discover gambling at Rick's Place (while pocketing his winnings), the strategy of Governor Jack Markell, the rest of Delaware's "major party" politicians, the Editorial Board of the Wilmington News Journal, and our so-called "corporate leadership" has been to pretend that the discovery of pollution in the First State is the fault of . . . Delaware citizens.

More to the point, it is Delaware citizens who are going to be hit with a $700,000,000 bill for a multi-year clean-up--the overwhelming majority of which will find its way into the hands of the same corporations who dumped toxic chemicals into our air and water for years.

THIS is the famed "Delaware Way."

I'm going to lay it out for you.  It will be long and it will be unlovely, and I will take no prisoners.

I'm not ready to get into finding (and funding) the solutions yet, because we cannot do either until we are honest about who caused the problems and we get those responsible away from the decision-making process for the clean-up.

If we don't, the state's major polluters (which include, by the way, both our major corporations AND our state/local governments) will simply pocket hundreds of millions more of our tax dollars without ever dealing with the problem.

So here goes.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Helping Delaware (and Joe Miro) solve the Medicaid conundrum

Two months ago, in a post covering the Delaware government's immense surprise at rising Medicaid costs, I quoted this from the WNJ:
Officials in Markell’s administration say they were surprised this fall when the federal government signaled it would shift some Medicaid costs back to the state. The move was triggered by a technical change in the way federal economists calculate personal income, and could cost the state an unexpected $25 million.
And I said this:
I'm not sure who really believed that (A) adding 20,000-30,000 people to the 215,000 people in Delaware already on Medicaid wasn't going to cost more; or that (B) the cash-strapped Feds weren't going to look for a way to shift more of the expense downward.  Nobody's repealed the law of gravity recently. 
Last week the WNJ reported that the General Assembly's budget committee and the 22nd State Representative District's own incumbent Joe Miro are now getting around to grappling with this issue:  
Lawmakers on the General Assembly's budget committee wrestled Wednesday with the rising costs of Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor that will cost state taxpayers an additional $25.6 million next year.
The program is now projected to consume about $700 million of Gov. Jack Markell's proposed $3.8 billion operating budget proposal under consideration in the General Assembly.
"We cannot sustain the expenditures that we have with the income that we're generating," said Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley. "Everybody on this committee realizes we need to do something." 
It is important to understand, no matter how you feel about Medicaid, that this is not something that our legislators can walk away from:  with the new Medicaid expansion one of every four Delaware citizens will be receiving his or her health insurance from the program.

Why is it that our legislators believe that the $3.8 BILLION dollars of tax revenue Delaware collects each year is inadequate to perform the essential tasks of government?

This is only a complex question to answer because our current crop of lawmakers starts with certain assumptions about what they need to do with our tax money, assumptions that are apparently driven more by who donated to their campaigns than by any sense of fiduciary responsibility.

You see, Medicaid (state subsidized health insurance for primarily the working poor) is something we can't afford to spend $700 million on (at least not without raising taxes, they tell us), but . . . .