US Government

What is Libertarianism?

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

From an interesting thread on /.

My definition of “libertarianism” stands from a firm principle of “live and let live”. That is, everyone is free to do what they want as long as they are not doing any direct harm to others against their will.

I put in the phrase “direct harm” because it is all to easy to declare anything you want as an “indirect harm” without any justification. When I say “direct harm”, there has to be actual clearly identifiable victims of that harm, and also clear, identifiable harm. Alas, much of what in politics and the law today that is declared “harm” isn’t really.

So, in essence, unless you see me actually doing something that is clearly harming someone else, you are to leave me alone. And I, of course, will do likewise.

I have lost count of how many times in my own life, for instance, someone has phoned the police on me simply because they *thought* I was dangerous, regardless of the fact that I had not done anything wrong nor had any intentions of doing so. And that has caused much damage — much harm — to me and my family, and yet no one learns from this. Police still encourages the public to phone everything in at the drop of a hat. Then they go out and harass innocent individuals, doing harm to them.

If I were libertarian-leaning before, such experiences have firmly pushed me into that camp.

My response:

You’re conflating social libertarianism and economic libertarianism. Not your fault, so is everyone else on this forum.

“Live and let live” is social libertarianism. You’re saying, “personal / private freedoms must not be infringed”. Economic libertarianism says, “there should not be ANY government regulation on the ‘free’ market”. Someone who buys into both of these ideas (or, more commonly, conflates them) is a social/economic libertarian. In other words, a modern libertarian.

Most American-style liberals (i.e., people who believe in the power of government to help society) are also social libertarians, just not economic ones. An example of a policy offensive to an economic libertarian but not a liberal is the minimum wage, or the 40-hour work-week. Interestingly, most American-style conservatives are economic libertarians, but NOT social ones. They don’t mind eliminating the minimum wage, but they do want to tell you what you can and can’t do in your bedroom with your consenting adult partner.

You would think that modern libertarians would hate both parties, and some do, but you find many more of them supporting Republicans than Democrats.

The reason? Modern-day libertarianism really has more to do with Milton Friedman than it does with the ACLU. Many are just brainwashed Chicago school amateur economists. They think that the “invisible hand of the market” will fix everything, while they benefit from the fruits of a century of progressive policies that are only recently being dismantled.

They conflate social and economic libertarianism because it is convenient to do so; the latter is so vulgar that if presented alone to most compassionate human beings, it would seem completely insane. No 40-hour work week? No controls on foods and substances? No safety labels on medicines? No nutrition labels on food? No seatbelts in cars? No environmental regulations on dumping and pollution? Yep — that’s economic libertarianism. The “market” will sort things out. Just let the invisible hand do its work, and all these things will magically be taken care of. [You often hear economic libertarians making the mistake of applying Darwin’s principle of natural selection to the market — those with the most money and skills are “selected”, and the rest should be left in the dust.]

Social libertarianism, on the other hand, jives with American sensibilities and our Constitution. And so, through the sheep’s clothing of social and personal freedoms, comes the wolf of the business-run “free” market.

Update: A Wikipedia article on the Nolan Chart, as well as the chart itself, elaborates this distinction. If I were producing the chart today, instead of making the x-axis “economic freedom,” I’d label it “opposition to government regulation of the market.” Certainly less succinct, but more accurate.

Another Update: I was revisiting the /. thread, and found a particularly good description of the difference between economic liberals and economic libertarians:

[…] the question fundamentally comes down to, “What do you fear the most?”

1. An inefficient government running roughshod over you (taxation, interference in property rights, tyranny of the majority, etc).
2. Powerful, unaccountable private entities running roughshod over you (monopolies, externalities, inequity of power, etc).

Of course, this is a bit of an oversimplification (as is the notion that most people fit into these little political boxes), but it mostly suffices. I find that most libertarian and most liberal points of view come down to concerns that their favorite bogeyman will ruin everything if left unchecked and powerless. More nuanced views come from realizing that they both are pretty bad and that you have to make a choice how to balance them (even if you tend to throw the balance almost entirely one way or the other). The crazy ideologues you see here on Slashdot and elsewhere are the people who seem to never acknowledge that the other side’s feared enemy is a problem too.

I love this explanation. My personal belief, as elaborated in earlier posts in this blog, is that careful government regulation of business is a good thing. But the modern US administrations strip away regulation of businesses, while growing the government in its ability to censor, to control social and personal behavior, to use the national purse for foreign wars, etc. In other words, the worst of both worlds!

Falwell Never Apologized

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Jerry Falwell died today. He was a great preacher, a wonderful father, a … oh, who the fuck am I kidding? The guy was an evil, intolerant man, who called the Civil Rights Movement the “Civil Wrongs Movement,” hated blacks and supported segregation, and then went on to hate gays, lesbians, the ACLU, and women who choose to abort their fetuses. For a supposedly Christian man, he led a life of complete hatred, and contributed to the growing divide in this country between people who believe in rational thought and science, and those who prefer to live under the protection of “God’s” blanket.

I’m going to toast to his death tonight. Hope Michelle Malkin finds my blog and lists it on her left-wing vitriol page.

Salon rightly ran an article called “The Stone is Cast“, exonerating left-wing bloggers for verbally pissing on his dead skull.  It begins with Falwell’s most famous quote:

Falwell will always be remembered for his “700 Club” comment in the wake of Sept. 11: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'” Even though Falwell later apologized, the damage had been done: A sacred moment had been used for profane purpose.

I pointed out that Falwell never really apologized, so even Salon is being too polite here. Click here to read my letter. Wasn’t gonna let him get away with that just cuz he’s dead.

More on Internet Radio: NPR Takes Action

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

From TFA:

This is a stunning, damaging decision for public radio and its commitment to music discovery and education, which has been part of our tradition for more than half a century. Public radio’s agreements on royalties with all such organizations, including the RIAA, have always taken into account our public service mission and non-profit status. These new rates, at least 20 times more than what stations have paid in the past, treat us as if we were commercial radio – although by its nature, public radio cannot increase revenue from more listeners or more content, the factors that set this new rate. Also, we are being required to pay an internet royalty fee that is vastly more expensive than what we pay for over-the-air use of music, although for a fraction of the over-the-air audience.

Save Internet Radio

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Internet Radio is in danger.  (Thanks for the heads up, Jeff Evans.)  This means sites like Pandora may have to be shut down.  Do something about it.  I wrote the following letter to my NY representatives:

The Copyright Royalty Fees for Internet Radio broadcasters (like the hugely innovative Pandora.com) have been increased to the point where many of these stations will have to close down.

The music industry has certainly made a big fuss about threats coming from the Internet, but I don’t spend any of my nights crying for the music industry.  They make millions upon millions of dollars, and keep America locked in a relative monoculture where new and independent artists are left out of the musical discourse while mindless and mind-numbing music is played everyday on radio stations across the ClearChannel nation.

Yet, despite my relative dislike for this exploitive industry, I have to say that every technological innovation that we’ve seen — from LPs to tape cassettes to CDs, and now to MP3s — has seen an increasingly growing recording industry, usually due to, rather than in spite of, these technologies.

Interent Radio actually has more of a potential to benefit the music industry than any other one of these technologies.  If you don’t know, Pandora.com is an amazing site based upon “The Music Genome Project.”  The concept is simple: you enter a song or artist on the site, and it creates a playlist of songs that “sound like” that artist or song.  I can mix these intangibles (“The Doors” and “Michael Jackson” gives me classic rock tones with pop melodies) and discover new artists I had never even heard about, simply by exploring my “taste matrix.”  This amazing functionality comes in particular handy after I get my paycheck, since I go to Pandora.com, see which artists/songs I’ve listened to lately, and with a click I can purchase these songs from the music industry.

I hadn’t bought a CD in years, until discovering Pandora and, through it, independent music I liked.

Who, exactly, loses in this situation?  I discover songs I’ve never heard of, I buy CDs that probably don’t sell very well, I get to benefit from high-quality radio from work on my work PC, and Pandora makes a tiny slice of money on advertising.

I’m sure the music industry wishes they had thought of Pandora, so that the little money that it does make from advertising would be theirs.  But tough!  This is supposed to be a competitive economic system, and if you snooze, you lose.  (Given actions like these by government, I’m not sure that it is really a competitive economic system, unfortunately!)

This is only the beginning of the places these technologies can go.  Don’t allow their efforts to be quelled by big corporate interests!  Please strike down these ridiculous copyright fees!

Think Corporate Power is showing any signs of weakness?  Nope.  The big wheels keep on turning…

Conversation on Torture with Doomsy

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Been having a cross-blog discussion with Doomsy over at the Liberal Doomsayer about our recent crimes torturing detainees, as widely reported in NYTimes and on Alternet. A follow-up to this post from me that I figured I should post again here:

The thing is, I don’t think we ever can redeem ourselves. America hasn’t been a saint throughout its military and political history, but as many leftist columnists are now pointing out, we have dropped our bar so far below the one we set at Nuremberg that it’s hard to see how the world can forgive us, never mind we, the people, forgiving the US Government. Saddam, a dictator we helped create and helped carry out his war crimes, was executed in an instant, in the most inhumane way. A member of the military I recently interviewed told me [paraphrasing] that “every military officer knew full well that Saddam would be executed the second he was turned over to the ‘Iraqi Government’,” and those quotes are his, not mine. In his mind, and he has been in West Baghdad for the last year fighting on the front lines, the “Iraqi Government” is nothing more than a a few corrupt politicians and a few importantly-placed American agents. “We’ve turned over detainees who weren’t even proven guilty of their crimes in Iraq, and the ‘Iraqi Government’ murdered them with a shot in the head before we were even out the door. We’ve all come to understand that ‘handing someone over to the Iraqis’ is doublespeak for ‘send that person to die’. Who physically pulls the trigger is really an irrelevant detail.” So I don’t want US Government officials telling us this is “their [the Iraqi’s] system, their method of justice.” It’s ours, the blood is all over our hands. The fact that we torture should come as no surprise. And the case of Donald Vance (note: an American contractor who blew the whistle on his employer in Baghdad and was held and tortured by our military) just shows that no one is safe, that we don’t reserve our techniques for those we consider “evil”, but that it has just become a routine process for our military operations.

Embarassed to be an American

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Following up on the torture table from my last post, today I read two of the most engrossing and depressing articles I’ve ever read, about detainees tortured by the US Government, using cruel and unusual punishment to humiliate and destroy the human spirit.

The first is written for the Guardian, but syndicated on Alternet. It describes Jose Padilla, an alleged terrorist.

The purpose of these measures appeared to be to sustain the regime under which he had lived for over three years: total sensory deprivation. He had been kept in a blacked-out cell, unable to see or hear anything beyond it. Most importantly, he had no human contact, except for being bounced off the walls from time to time by his interrogators. As a result, he appears to have lost his mind. I don’t mean this metaphorically. I mean that his mind is no longer there.

It simply must be read. Then, as if this weren’t enough, I read a similar article, but describing an entirely different case, in the New York Times. This time, it describes Donald Vance, a security contractor who was a whistle blower pointing out corruption within his organization in Iraq, who was then captured by the US Military and subjected to torture techniques because he had been “associated” with the organization whose flaws he had been instrumental in illuminating. The amazing part is that he took detailed notes of his stay, and the New York Times article presents this evidence along with testimony from Vance himself. It shows a detainee system so fundamentally broken and so insanely immoral that I had a lump in my throat while reading the words on the page. You should read them too.

The two men slept in their 9-by-9-foot cells on concrete slabs, with worn three-inch foam mats. With the fluorescent lights on and the temperature in the 50s, Mr. Vance said, “I paced myself to sleep, walking until I couldn’t anymore. I broke the straps on two pair of flip-flops.”

How will we ever redeem ourselves? There simply is no excuse for this kind of behavior. We have become what we sought to destroy.

The Humanity

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

Check out this interesting table about world views on torture over at the BBC.

Notice how the best scores are in Spain, France, and Italy (where more than 80% find the practice of human torture repugnant — what bleeding heart liberals! :)). I always knew that these countries had a better grasp of morality than Americans, but not by this degree.

Looking at those statistics for the US (where 38% think some degree of torture is permissible), it makes you think we’re not even a progressive country. Our percentage is lower than Turkey, the Ukraine… we’re only 1% off from Russia, for crying out loud! In Russia, they torture people “just in case” they do something bad!

Military Spending

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

Don’t listen to me. Listen to the CIA.

Updated Link, thanks Michael.

Colbert Follow-up

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Check out this site:

http://www.thankyoustephencolbert.org/

After Stephen Colbert’s (IMO, historically significant) roast of the president and the press, someone started this website to thank him for his “truthiness.”

Yesterday, it had 14,000 thank you comments from the Internet community. Today, it has nearly 23,000. I think this an amazing example of how Internet bloggers and news scourers will simply not be dictated the news by a spineless mainstream press.

Anyone who thinks Colbert’s speech, words, and satire weren’t newsworthy is simply pissed that Colbert spoke truth to the faces of power. The fact that the mainstream press by and large marginalized the Colbert speech and glorified the modest “Dumb Bush/Dumber Bush” act just disgusts me. It also confirms, I think, that Rove and others know that Bush’s general lack of eloquence or sophistication masks his true flaws: the lack of reason or any capacity to reflect on his actions. It was precisely those flaws that Colbert’s speech pointed out. For Bush, the “jury is still out” on issues like evolution and global warming. Why? Because he dosn’t believe in facts.

Listen again to the Colbert speech, and you’ll notice he never once criticizes the president for his inability to say big words or his “Bushisms;” instead, he criticizes him for being able to make complex political and foreign policy decisions without appealing to the facts. That’s what makes Bush dangerous.

Stephen Colbert at White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

I just wanted to point out that if you haven’t seen it yet, you should see Stephen Colbert’s speech, in front of the President, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I think it will go down in history as one of the funniest and most awkward comic coup d’etats ever committed.

At first, you think Colbert is just going to play the Bush sycophant he always does on the Colbert Report. But then he just takes a step farther and mocks all mainstream journalists there, and the President himself, right to his face. Really amazing stuff, you can’t dream up better situations!

Take a look:

part 1, part2, part 3.