Category Archives: Look About

Quote of the Day: Libertarianism Edition

“Liberty. It’s a simple idea, but it’s also the linchpin of a complex system of values and practices: justice, prosperity, responsibility, toleration, cooperation, and peace. Many people believe that liberty is the core political value of modern civilization itself, the one that gives substance and form to all the other values of social life. They’re called libertarians.”

-From Cato Institute’s new website

I haven’t had much time to check it out yet but I can tell there is some very, very, good stuff there. Essays, video, and audio from great thinkers such as Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard (just to name a few) as well as contemporary libertarian thinkers provide something for those who are curious about libertarian ideas and long time libertarians alike.

Kevin Drum’s Guest Bloggers Upholding The [ahem] Fine Standards He Has Created There

Kevin Drum is on vacation this week. While I thought that might leave me without boneheaded material to criticize, I’m afraid he’s found guest bloggers as credible and clueless as himself. Today we have Andy Kroll, who wants to delve into meta-debates about rights and entitlements with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker:

But the statement that really jumped out from Walker’s interview is his own perception of the bargaining fight:

“They defined it as a rights issue. It’s not a rights issue. It’s an expensive entitlement.”

What’s his first step to show how wrong Walker is? Well, he skips right to the United Nations, a body whose Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that you can use your rights as long as you don’t do so in a way “contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations” (Art. 29, Sec 3). He starts there and follows on with a lot of other legally-created privileges that he calls rights:

Hmm. I’m pretty sure the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the UN after World War II (and drafted and adopted by the US), says that collective bargaining is in fact a human right. Oh, yes, there it is, in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration:

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Then there’s the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) here in the US, which “explicitly grants employees the right to collectively bargain and join trade unions,” according to the scholars at Cornell University Law School. Or as the National Labor Relations Board’s website puts it, the NLRA “protects employees’ rights to act together, with or without a union, to improve working terms and conditions, including wages and benefits.”

All of this analysis has one critical flaw: it doesn’t properly recognize that there are multiple kinds of rights, and that a right which the government shall not deny is, well, slightly different than one that it grants. I left the below in a comment to that Kroll’s post at the original site:

Are you even familiar with the distinction between “negative rights” and “positive rights”?

Negative rights are rights that you have unless someone else infringes upon them. You have a right to life, but not to force others to produce the food and shelter you need to live. You have the right to freedom of speech, but not the right to force anyone to listen (or, in the case of blogging, to force a blog to print your comments to a post). A right to healthcare or education — if you define it as me not being stopped by government or highway robbers from freely purchasing health or education services on an open market from a willing seller — is a negative right.

Positive rights are rights that require someone else to procure them to you. A right to healthcare — if you assume that those who can’t afford care should be covered by “society” — is a positive right. A right to an education — if you assume it should be paid for by government taxes — is a positive right. A right to food — if you define it as foodstamps for the indigent — is a positive right. *ALL* positive rights can be described as “entitlements”, as they’re what we as a society might define all people are entitled to be provided to them if they cannot do it themselves.

A “right” to organizing a union is a positive right (inasmuch as it restricts and employer’s ability to fire people for trying to exercise it). If we so choose, in our democratic society, that people should be allowed to unionize to counterbalance what may be perceived as in unfair labor advantage to the employer, we can call it a “right” all we want, but it’s a positive right, not a negative right. As such, calling it an “expensive entitlement” doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary. I don’t see any real disconnect in what Walker said.

Now, I was a bit unclear in that final paragraph. What I intended to say was this: The right to form a union is a negative right. It is inherent in the right to freedom of association. The right to collective bargaining is a negative right. It is inherent in the right to freedom of speech. As you point out (and as I intended to), it becomes a positive right when we write laws or regulations forcing businesses to the other side of the table. Forcing an employer to actually deal with them on those collective terms is the “entitlement” of that positive right.

Andy Kroll waded into deep water here, and it’s clear he didn’t want to recognize that. It’s also potentially true that Gov. Walker did the same — the original linked article doesn’t make clear whether Walker’s statement about entitlement had deeper context. Kroll is trying to use one line from an already snipped interview to make Gov. Walker sound like a simpleton who doesn’t understand the nature of rights. In doing so, Kroll only proves that to be the case about himself.

Cognitive Dissonance

Sometimes you hear a guy like Kevin Drum say this:

But of course, that’s the real slippery slope. If the state is allowed to prohibit me from killing myself, what else is the state allowed to do? Can it force me to accept medical treatment that will save my life? Can it force me to accept medical treatment that might save my life? If not, why?

I’m a liberal, but I’d just as soon keep the state out of decisions like that. I’d especially like to keep the state out if there’s no compelling secular reason for them to get involved. In this case, there sure doesn’t appear to be.

And yet you wonder how he can be so tone-deaf to any similar argument coming from the mouth of a libertarian. Or, in even sharper relief, the argument that comparative effectiveness review panels might not follow a slippery slope towards “death panels”, where the folks with the pursestrings (gov’t) decides some people just aren’t worth throwing the money in to keep alive any more.

My question for Drum is simple: with all the personal decisions that he thinks government SHOULD be involved in, why is this one suddenly verboten?

Reading List: Slackernomics and BMOC

For the bargain conscious out there, a couple books recently became available for the Kindle at dramatically reduced prices, and I wanted to pass them along. As an aside, if nothing else this is a great sales pitch for the Kindle — at $139 for the wi-fi only version [which is all you *really* need], the value of free and reduced-price books you can buy may quite quickly amortize the cost of the hardware. The lack of a physical book to print, stock, and ship makes it significantly easier to experiment with lower-cost pricing models, and Dale & Warren’s books below emphasize this.

So I recommend checking out both of the below. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably the type of person who would enjoy both books. Yet even if you don’t, they’re cheap enough to be worth the risk.

Slackernomics – Dale Franks [of QandO]

This is a book I’ve been intending to read for a few years, but the >$20 price point for the printed version just made it something that was constantly on my Amazon wish list but never something I’d pulled the trigger to purchase. At $2.99 and without shipping costs, though, it’s a no-brainer. I’ve read Dale and the guys from QandO for years. Dale’s always been clear-headed about economic topics in the past, so while I can’t say I’ve read the book yet, I trust it will be solid.

BMOC – Warren Meyer [of Coyote Blog]

I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this book when it came out [review here], and thought the book was an excellent example of a page-turning novel that happened to integrate Warren’s libertarian-businessman point of view. If you like his blog, you’ll like the book, but even if you’ve never read his blog [a sin on its own merits], you’ll like his book.

The State of the Union: the Liberty Movement Responds

Executive Director of the Libertarian Party Wes Benedict:

President Obama says he wants a freeze in non-security, discretionary spending. In the unlikely event that happens, it won’t really matter, because to make a real dent in the deficit, it’s necessary to cut spending on the military and entitlements. The president promised big government in the past, and he delivered. I expect more of the same.
However, Obama has truly been a hypocrite on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a candidate, he promised to end them. Tonight we heard more hollow promises. The fact is, as president, he has kept those wars going, and has greatly escalated the war in Afghanistan. As a percentage of GDP, military spending is higher now than it was during any year of the George W. Bush administration.

Unlike President Obama, Libertarians would bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and reduce the military budget.

Benedict also saved some much needed criticism for Paul Ryan’s Republican response

On the Republican side, I found Congressman Paul Ryan’s hypocrisy appalling. He claims to want big cuts in government spending. But he didn’t seem to be too worried about cutting spending when Republicans were in charge. He supported the huge Medicare expansion in 2003, and the expensive No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. He supports the expensive War on Drugs. In 2008, he put hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars at risk by voting for the massive TARP bailout, and he even voted to spend billions on the GM and Chrysler bailout.

Just one month ago, Congressman Ryan voted for the tax compromise that included a big increase in unemployment spending, and even extensions of government spending on ethanol.

Republicans don’t want to cut spending — they want to talk about cutting spending.

At Veronique de Rugy and Nick Gillespie responded with a post “We Can’t Win the Future By Repeating the Past”

How can we “win the future,” as President Barack Obama exhorted us to do in his 2011 State of the Union address, when our top elected official remains so drearily stuck in the past? And despite the commanding role of what can only be called Sputnik nostalgia in his speech, Obama was not even channeling the distant past in his remarks.

Instead, he served up the equivalent of a microwaved reheating of the sentiments of his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush. That’s some sort of groovy, space-age technological feat, for sure, but we shouldn’t confuse left-over platitudes about cutting wasteful spending on the one hand while ramping up publicly funded “investment” on the other for a healthy meal.

Neal Boortz:

Sure enough, as I told you, Obama replaced the word “spending” with the word “investing”. I’ve gone through this routine with you before, people just react better to the word investing than they do the word spending. Investing good, spending bad. What Barack Obama proposed last night was not investing at all, it was pure stimulus spending. Space and we all know how well the last stimulus plan worked. Where’s the unemployment rate now? About 9.5%? Yeah, that worked. One of the mainstays oval bomb his new stimulus program is this high speed rail boondoggle. Obama said “Within 25 years our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail.” Space you do know, don’t you, that Amtrak has never made money. Amtrak is a constant drain on taxpayer dollars were ever those trains run. And how is it going to be any different with high-speed rail lines. Experts not working for the government or not working for the building trades unions, are pretty much unanimous in their opinions that high-speed rail in our widely disseminated population simply will not work. It high-speed rail doesn’t work between New York and Philadelphia, or New York and Washington DC without losing money, how in the world isn’t going to work between Orlando and Tampa or any other two urban areas in this country. Space the fact is that this whole dream about high-speed rail is nothing but a payoff to unions in order to put construction workers to work building rail lines, joining unions, paying union dues, and allowing unions to make massive political contributions to candidates. Democrat candidates.

Gene Healy at Cato says the problem with the SOTU isn’t the seating:

Bipartisan symbolism’s all the rage on Capitol Hill right now, with members scrambling for a cross-aisle BFF to sit with at the State of the Union (SOTU). Tonight, the lion will lie down with the lamb — or at least Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will sit elbow to elbow and try not to bite each other.

Maybe these gestures will lead to a nationwide surge of oxytocin — the togetherness hormone — healing partisan rancor across the fruited plain. But that’s highly unlikely, given how polarizing the modern SOTU and the modern presidency have become.

Over at United Liberty, former Liberty Papers contributor Jason Pye warns readers to not be fooled by the president’s favorite buzzword from the SOTU: “investing”

Consider this, in the same speech President Obama was pitching a paltry speeding freeze, he spoke often of investment. Of course, since “stimulus” has become a political non-starter; thanks largely to his behemoth spending bill passed shortly after he took office two years ago, “investment” is the new buzz word for statists to push their wasteful pet spending.

Among these “investments” will be more spending for high-speed rail projects, high-speed internet, tax credits, more education spending, energy subsidies, and more spending for our seemingly endless operations in Afghanistan – although he promises that we will soon begin withdrawal from the country, don’t believe it; we’re going to be there for years to come. Obama claims to want a spending freeze, but he also wants to spend more money. On what planet does that make sense?

Former Libertarian presidential nominee Bob Barr called the speech a “yawn”

A little bit of something for everybody; but a really big something for government. This was the essential thrust of this 44th President’s second — and longest, state-of-the-union speech last night. While Barack Obama did not include quite as lengthy a shopping list in his state of the union speech as did his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, his list was long nonetheless.

Even though Obama paid lip service to regulatory reform, community-based education, tax reform, and reform of last year’s health care reform (among many other tid-bits), in virtually every instance, the ultimate solution to which he kept returning was more government spending and increased government prioritization.

Finally, John Stossel offers a State of the Union address of his own (to which I won’t excerpt because the whole thing should be read; I’ll post the video if I can find it).

***UPDATE*** Cato offers a more complete response to the SOTU by getting into some of the details of the speech and other observations.

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