How do you argue a point with a side which hasn’t a clue how the real world works or what a logical “non-sequitur” is?
I think we all know which side that is.
Here’s the premise put forth by an article in The New Republic:
“Libertarians Who Oppose a Militarized Police Should Support Gun Control”
Here’s a sketch of the argument:
There is indeed agreement between many liberals and libertarians that the militarization of the police, especially in its dealings with racial minorities, has gone too far. But this consensus may crumble pretty quickly when it’s confronted with the obvious police counter-argument: that the authorities’ heavy firepower and armor is necessary in light of all the firepower they’re up against. At that point, many liberals will revert to arguing for sensible gun control regulations like broader background checks to keep guns out of the hands of violent felons and the mentally ill (the measure that police organizations successfully argued should be the gun control movement’s legislative priority following the Newtown, Connecticut shootings) or limits on assault weapons and oversized ammunition clips. And liberals will be reminded that the libertarians who agree with them in opposing police militarization are very much also opposed to the gun regulations that might help make the environment faced by police slightly less threatening.
But it doesn’t “crumble” at all. You have to buy into the premise that it is a more lethally dangerous out there for police than it appears to be. But it isn’t:
The number of law-enforcement officers killed by firearms in 2013 fell to levels not seen since the days of the Wild West, according to a report released Monday.
The annual report from the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund also found that deaths in the line of duty generally fell by 8 percent and were the fewest since 1959.
According to the report, 111 federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officers were killed in the line of duty nationwide this past year, compared to 121 in 2012.
Forty-six officers were killed in traffic related accidents, and 33 were killed by firearms.
The number of firearms deaths fell 33 percent in 2013 and was the lowest since 1887.
And the drop is credited to bullet proof vests, not SWAT Teams and MRAPS. Pretending that the threat is any higher now than it always has been seems obviously wrong, given the facts. Certainly there are toxic cultures within our society who believe that violence is the answer to whatever they encounter as a problem. And yes, police have to face that potential threat all the time. Do I think police should be armed adequately? Yes, but that doesn’t at all begin to cover what we see among today’s police forces in terms of both equipment and tactics. In fact, I believe it is all of these “wars” on everything from drugs to terrorists which have had a hand in helping to militarize the police.
That said, agree or disagree with that point, gun control is essentially not only been shown to be ineffective but is a non-sequitur in this “argument”. See Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC for proof the ineffectiveness of the ban. But you have to ask, who in this day and age but a clueless journalist would even begin to believe that “broader background checks” are going to keep guns out of the hands of “violent felons?” Have they in the past (their answer is they just haven’t be stringent enough)? Honestly, do they really believe a felon is going to waltz into a gun store to buy what he wants knowing full well he’ll have a background check run? Really?
Have these rubes never heard of a black market (they can buy guns from Mexican cartels, thoughtfully provided by the DoJ)? Do they not realize that any “violent felon” who wants a gun isn’t going to even try to get one legally? So, knowing that, why in the world would any libertarian grant the absurd premise knowing full well that doing so only limits the freedom of the law abiding citizenry? It’s absurd on its face. And, logically, it is a non-sequitur to any libertarian (again, libertarianism isn’t about shrinking rights and freedoms for heaven sake). How does making it more inconvenient for citizens who aren’t “violent felons” to buy a gun for self-protection going to stop a felon from obtaining his gun illegally? It isn’t.
Because, of course, that’s not what they really want (i.e. incremental change via “broader background checks”). They want a total ban on guns, for government and felons to be the only people with guns and to essentially outlaw then outright. Obviously they are oblivious to the danger of only government having guns and they certainly don’t seem to be able to wrap their heads around the fact that felons aren’t going to pay any attention to the law. Nor will the black market in illegal guns. So why, again, should anyone grant this argument credence?
I swear, you just wonder at times what goes on between their ears all day, because it certainly has nothing to do with the real world or reason.
I think George Will is on to something:
In physics, a unified field theory is an attempt to explain with a single hypothesis the behavior of several fields. Its political corollary is the Cupcake Postulate, which explains everything , from Missouri to Iraq, concerning Americans’ comprehensive withdrawal of confidence from government at all levels and all areas of activity.
Washington’s response to the menace of school bake sales illustrates progressivism’s ratchet: The federal government subsidizes school lunches, so it must control the lunches’ contents, which validates regulation of what it calls “competitive foods,” such as vending machine snacks. Hence the need to close the bake sale loophole, through which sugary cupcakes might sneak: Foods sold at fundraising bake sales must, with some exceptions, conform to federal standards.
What has this to do with police, from Ferguson, Mo., to your home town, toting marksman rifles, fighting knives, grenade launchers and other combat gear? Swollen government has a shriveled brain: By printing and borrowing money, government avoids thinking about its proper scope and actual competence. So it smears mine-resistant armored vehicles and other military marvels across 435 congressional districts because it can.
Examples? Will provides plenty of them.
Here’s the point though:
A cupcake-policing government will find unending excuses for flexing its muscles as it minutely monitors our behavior in order to improve it …
“Improve” should be in scare quotes, because the deeper the medling, the more it “minutely monitors our behavior”, the less it improves it and the more it interferes with it.
But … that’s the state of being now in the US.
Nick Gillespie at Hit and Run agrees with Will but issues this warning:
He’s right that confidence in government is plummeting mostly because of the simultaneously stupid and overreaching actions of politicians, administrators, and bureaucrats at all levels. Recognizing such a reality may be the beginning of (libertarian) wisdom, but as I’ve written before, it also carries a very serious potential risk. Counterintuitively, distrust in government may lead to calls for more government.
And that’s one of the reasons we suffer Leviathan today. Many of our “problems” in the past have had their roots in government interference or over-reach. The real problem is we petition government for relief and government’s answer is always more government.
Here’s a clue: when you ask government to fix any problem it will always answer with more government, regulations, laws, whatever – nature of the beast. Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to look to government for relief from all our problems. The end-state of that is always more government control and less citizen control. And here we are.
A major ray of hope—indeed, the beam of sunshine that’s warming up this libertarian moment—is really the ways in which people are creating workarounds that simply bypass government whenever possible. Taxi regulations screw consumers? Create Uber. Public-school educators are unresponsive? Create your own curriculum or even your own school. Can’t sell unpasteurized milk products? Create a buyers club. Major parties won’t listen? Create the Tea Party. And on and on.
As Matt Welch and I discussed at length in The Declaration of Independents, workarounds are a great thing and easier to pull off than ever, but they have serious limitations (witness foreign policy, Ferguson, the drug war, and so much more). It’s well past time that we start insisting on a limited, trustworthy government that is actually competent and restrained at the few things that it should be doing. That will not only reduce the desire for more government, it will free up even more time and resources for the free-range experiments in living that will actually make the world better, more interesting, and more prosperous.
Btw, I disagree this is necessarily a “libertarian moment” (although like the “Tea Party”, I see the liberals loading up the rhetorical guns to shoot down anything that might take flight suggesting it). However, what Gillespie talks about above is where this sentiment that has grown tremendously over the past 6 years (surprise, huh?) needs to be herded. Whether that’s possible or not will tell us all how “libertarian” the moment has been.
Until then, enjoy your cupcakes.
My dad used to refuse to watch Hollywood’s version of war or life in the Army. He said it was more of a cartoon than reality. Of course Hollywood is famous for that, and nothing much has changed over the years. My dad enjoyed documentaries about the military (I remember well, “Victory at Sea”) but he preferred real cartoons to Hollywood’s version.
I’m sort of that way with articles about libertarianism. As you know, both sides of the establishment political spectrum are scared to death of real libertarianism. And so they attempt to demonize it and make it “unpalatable” for the mass of the citizenry. The usual procedure is to decide what they want to claim, define their version of “libertarianism” to support their claim and then using their false premise, attempt to logically prove their point.
The latest attempt is an article in Bloomberg entitled “Libertarians are the new Communists“. Now as ridiculous as that sounds, the point of the article isn’t to say libertarians are the same as communists, i.e. pretty much share the same belief systems. But that libertarianism suffers from fatal flaws that ignore human nature just as communism does. And that’s where they try to establish their false premise, i.e.:
Like communism, this philosophy is defective in its misreading of human nature, misunderstanding of how societies work and utter failure to adapt to changing circumstances. Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution. It assumes that societies are efficient mechanisms requiring no rules or enforcers, when, in fact, they are fragile ecosystems prone to collapse and easily overwhelmed by free-riders. And it is fanatically rigid in its insistence on a single solution to every problem: Roll back the state!
Wow, where to start. Let’s start with “selfishness”. Among non-libertarians this is the most misunderstood concept of them all. What they try to do is make a simple and absolute part of human nature into something else again. Libertarians do not believe that “humans are wired only to be selfish”. What libertarians do believe is that we act in our own enlightened self-interest. That’s a no-brainer. Anyone who argues otherwise doesn’t know human nature. We all act in our own rational self-interest when we do things. And guess what? Sometimes it is in our own rational self-interest to cooperate with others! Oh my goodness. You mean libertarians believe in cooperation. Yes! As long as it is voluntary cooperation, not coerced.
Now, does that sound so horrible or something that is against human nature? Of course not. But to listen to the Hollywood version, well we’re all selfish SOBs.
Number two … no libertarian that I know actually believes that we shouldn’t cooperate to ensure that others rights aren’t violated or people aren’t coerced into doing things they don’t wish to do. How that translates into a system with no rules or enforcers is beyond me. The very fact that libertarians believe in individual rights (rules), are against coercion (rule) and would like to ensure those rights aren’t violated (rules/laws/enforcement) makes a dog’s breakfast out of that claim. It’s nonsense.
By the way, before you get too far into this, let me point out that although in the title, the authors use the term “libertarians”, throughout the piece they pretend they’re talking about “radical libertarians”. Their examples?
Some, such as the Koch brothers, are economic royalists who repackage trickle-down economics as “libertarian populism.” Some are followers of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose highest aspiration is to shut down government. Some resemble the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who has made a career out of trying to drown, stifle or strangle government.
Can you say “establishment hit piece”?
And that’s all this is.
Anyway to wrap it up, look at their final claim – Single solution to every problem is “roll back the state”. Single solution? Have these two bothered to look at the state of the state these days? Are they insisting that rolling back the state is always a bad thing (see I can make unsupported assumptions about them too)? Any prudent student of today’s state knows it has grown out of all proportion to its original design. And, they also know it has become oppressive, intrusive and frankly arrogant in its power. Anyone who isn’t screaming “roll back the state”, whatever their ideological affiliation, is a statist and no friend of liberty.
And that’s how I classify these two authors. They’re establishment statists deathly afraid of the liberty those they try to demonize represent and willing to misrepresent libertarianism as anarcho-capitalism. I’m sorry, but that’s not libertarianism, extreme or otherwise, and ask any self-respecting an-cap and they’ll be the first to agree.
So in essence, what we have in this article is an attempt at political demonization, by misrepresenting libertarianism and giving it the Hollywood war picture treatment.
CATO has the news:
The Reason-Rupe September 2012 poll includes our favorite ideological questions to differentiate libertarians from liberals and conservatives. Using three questions, we can define libertarians as respondents who believe “the less government the better,” who prefer the “free market” to handle problems, and who want government to “favor no particular set of values.” These fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters represent 20% of the public in the Reason-Rupe poll, in line with previous estimates.
Among these likely libertarian voters, the presidential horserace currently stands:
Romney’s share of the libertarian vote represents a high water mark for Republican presidential candidates in recent elections.
I find it difficult to believe 20% of the “libertarian” vote would go to Obama, but whatever.
Bush pulled 70% of the libertarian vote in 2000. But that percentage dropped to 59 in 2004.
So what if Gary Johnson is included?
A pretty even split between libertarians voting for Romney and Obama (7% each).
This is all interesting for a number of reasons. One is that many libertarians like to argue that “true” libertarians would never vote for any Republican or Democrat. Yet when you look at the numbers, and unless you’re willing to exclude about 97% of self-identified libertarians, that’s just not at all the case. In fact, in the last two presidential elections (2004 and 2008), third party candidates have pulled a whopping 3% of the libertarian vote. Yeah big “L” libertarian party types, it’s not selling. A lot of that has to do with “principles” which simply aren’t realistic (you know, like isolationism and open borders? Both have been overcome by events in case you haven’t noticed.). Once the Libertarian party begins dealing with the problems and realities of the here and now, and not how they’d like it to be, you may see those numbers change.
Until then, the lesser of two evils prevails. The reason for the record break this year? Probably because most libertarians understand that Obama and the Democrats pose the biggest internal danger to freedom and liberty this country has faced in quite some time. Is Romney/Ryan the panacea? Are you kidding? But first you have to remove the danger. Then you can work on repairing the damage.
And it won’t be quickly done as all of us know. I look for many “ones step forward, two steps back” days even after Obama is sent into retirement.
But one thing is for sure – this nation cannot afford another 4 years of Barack Obama.
I tend to be more optimistic than Dale about the near-to-intermediate future for the economy and for the culture. This may be unusual for a libertarian, but I’m heartened by many of the ways in which our opponents’ system is unsustainable.
Let me start by saying that, given a certain size of central government, libertarians could do worse than spending almost two-thirds of the budget on a few wealth transfer programs (Social Security and Medicare, both mostly funded by flat taxes, plus Medicaid, which gets much of its funding from the states) and a military like ours. Imagine if that money was spent employing domestic police and busybodies.
But even that government is fiscally unsustainable, so we expect our government to eventually be forced to give up some of its “responsibilities.” Assuming the country avoids a sovereign debt crisis, that adjustment might not be so bad for libertarians. Continue reading
That’s a quote
from attributed to Abraham Lincoln* as delivered by Richard Epstein in his discussion of economic inequality (a meme that is all the rage right now). Interestingly enough, this interview was conducted and broadcast by PBS (as tree hugging sister notes “I’m sure whoever’s idea it was has been sacked. Along with all the llama trainers”).
In any event, this is as good a retort to the #OWS nonsense as you’ll likely find. Enjoy (HT: Insty):
ADDED: Although Epstein doesn’t say it explicitly, essentially he describes “economic inequality” as a benign effect, rather than a malignant cause. Understanding the difference leads to understanding why allowing for the greatest number of opportunities works better at increasing everyone’s wealth instead of trying to equalize outcomes.
* Thanks to DWPittelli for pointing out this misattribution in the comments (“It was the Reverend William John Henry Boetcker (1873–1962) who wrote “you cannot help the poor by destroying the rich” and 9 other related aphorisms in 1916. A printing error in 1942 led to the confusion between some Lincoln quotes and these Boetcker quotes.”).
I’m amazed at times by what I read in major daily newspapers. OK, not as much now as I would have been say 10 or 15 years ago. Maybe it’s just awareness on my part now, but as I get older I am confronted by what I see as half-baked opinion on the pages of such rags than I ever remember before.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the one that’s gotten sharper over the years and am able to spot nonsense more easily than before. Take for instance, Nina Power of the Guardian. Power is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Roehampton University, so she can be forgiven for being somewhat removed from reality. In her opinion, which the Guardian gladly publishes, the problem of the riots in London and elsewhere can be laid at the feet of government and austerity policies. Why? Well let her explain:
Since the coalition came to power just over a year ago, the country has seen multiple student protests, occupations of dozens of universities, several strikes, a half-a-million-strong trade union march and now unrest on the streets of the capital (preceded by clashes with Bristol police in Stokes Croft earlier in the year). Each of these events was sparked by a different cause, yet all take place against a backdrop of brutal cuts and enforced austerity measures. The government knows very well that it is taking a gamble, and that its policies run the risk of sparking mass unrest on a scale we haven’t seen since the early 1980s. With people taking to the streets of Tottenham, Edmonton, Brixton and elsewhere over the past few nights, we could be about to see the government enter a sustained and serious losing streak.
It’s the “brutal cuts” and the “enforced austerity measures”. Note she admits that “each of these events was sparked by a different cause”, however she then rejects that admission and claims that in reality they all come back to government cut backs.
Really? It couldn’t be good old technology aided criminality could it? Or something else completely? Or a combination of other things altogether?
For instance, in the next paragraph, she says:
The policies of the past year may have clarified the division between the entitled and the dispossessed in extreme terms, but the context for social unrest cuts much deeper. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan last Thursday, where it appears, contrary to initial accounts, that only police bullets were fired, is another tragic event in a longer history of the Metropolitan police’s treatment of ordinary Londoners, especially those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and the singling out of specific areas and individuals for monitoring, stop and search and daily harassment.
One journalist wrote that he was surprised how many people in Tottenham knew of and were critical of the IPCC, but there should be nothing surprising about this. When you look at the figures for deaths in police custody (at least 333 since 1998 and not a single conviction of any police officer for any of them), then the IPCC and the courts are seen by many, quite reasonably, to be protecting the police rather than the people.
Oh, so it could be all about police harassment then and nothing to do with “brutal cuts” or austerity? It could be that the spark that lit this fire had to do with police treatment of minorities? It certainly seems that is what she’s saying. And of course the riots elsewhere could simply be copy-cat. Criminal gangs who learned the methods used in Tottenham and deploying them elsewhere to loot and avoid the police?
Well, yes, it could be. In fact, it could really have nothing at all to do with the “entitled and dispossessed”.
Combine understandable suspicion of and resentment towards the police based on experience and memory with high poverty and large unemployment and the reasons why people are taking to the streets become clear.
They do? What’s clear is she’s bound and determined to link them, that’s for sure. But clarity … yeah, not so much.
But that is necessary, even if not true, to conclude the following:
Those condemning the events of the past couple of nights in north London and elsewhere would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture: a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country.
As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, phenomena usually described as "social problems" (crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, mental illness) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution and less gap between the richest and the poorest. Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness – combined with a systematic crushing of unions and the ever-increasing criminalisation of dissent – have made Britain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.
All of that from a riot against police that one could conclude was a long time fermenting. Recall the LA riots – was that because of “brutal cuts” and “enforced austerity measures”? Was the looting that took place then a result of “decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness” or mobs taking advantage of the lawlessness the riots brought to loot what they wanted?
And even if she’s half right – what’s the solution she’d desire? Well “equality” of course. She’d rather trample the rights of those who’ve won “life’s lottery” (even though they worked their rear ends off to do so) and redistribute it to the poor and disenfranchised than ask the poor and disenfranchised to do what is necessary to give themselves a chance in life and quit demanding others do it for them.
Collectivism, although she never comes out and says it, is her answer. And we’ve seen how well those equal societies did, didn’t we? Well at least those of us who had been born before the collapse of the USSR and objectively observed the outcome.
Yes, friends, a whole new generation of collectivists begin to rear their heads, some having never seen what the collectivism of the last century brought in terms of “equality” - Equality of misery, equality of oppression and equality of hopelessness.
The problem in the UK isn’t austerity, it’s the results of collectivism and the fact that the inevitable outcome has begun. It isn’t individualism that’s the fault. It’s a massive state which robs people of incentive through it’s supposed benign acts of state sponsored charity. Why strive if you will be taken care of whether you do or not? Why seek food if you’re not hungry or don’t care what you eat? Why take care of yourself if the state will do it for you? And if you start running out of money, tax the rich bastards who want better.
Uncle Jimbo, at Blackfive, puts the exclamation mark on the real reason London is burning:
Liberal social policies have brought western civilization to the breaking point. They had the best of intentions, just ask them. But they, and sadly we, are getting a heaping dose of the law of unintended consequences. If you train an entire cohort of society to believe that the government doesn’t just offer a safety net but a way of life, well you get this- gangs of scum who will take what they want if the free lunch stops showing up. The chattering class is doing their level best to paint this as a legitimate reaction to dire economic times, and for once I agree with them. This is what happens when you run out of other people’s money.
By the way, this isn’t just a one-off bit of nonsense from Ms. Power. She’s been quite active in the Guardian pages denouncing all sorts of things with titles such as “Don’t Assume the Police Are On Our Side”, which makes me wonder what “our side” might be, and “Happiness has been Consumed by Capitalism” which clarifies the sides.
I‘m headed to CPAC this week. Just thought it would be a good idea – there’s going to be quite a libertarian contingent there. Doug Mataconis from Outside the Beltway, Jason Pye from United Liberty (and an occasional contributor to QandO), as well as members of CATO.
There’s a reason I think it is important to go and that’s to see what is in store on the conservative side of things for the promise of smaller government and less spending. I’d like to join other libertarians in influencing that move toward both smaller (and less intrusive) government and much less spending.
But I’m certainly not going to line up very well with the social conservatives. Such is life – my bet is we can find common ground on the fiscal and governmental side of things. And, if you’re familiar with the neo-libertarian strategy, it is to try to work within the existing system to influence and change those things we can by pushing for change that enhances basic liberty. Call it a bit of putting my money where my mouth is.
That’s also what I characterize as "the pragmatic approach". The system we have is what we have – I can stand outside and throw rocks at it, or I can work inside and try to change it. And no, working inside certainly doesn’t mean I "accept" the system as the end product or am "validating" it by working within it. I’m simply pointing out that the most effective way, in my opinion, of changing things is to work with those of a like mind and create a synergy that finally makes that change. I see CPAC as a valuable forum for such action. Lots of those who are actually involved at a national level in doing such things will be there (Rep. Paul Ryan, for instance, and Sen. Rand Paul).
It’s also an opportunity to network with a lot of bloggers I’ve known peripherally- mostly through email – for years (and some I’ve met and know personally as well).
All that said I don’t feel "unwelcome". This is a struggle that goes on in every party. Don’t believe me? Check out the Democrats – especially in the South. They’re going through some major problems as many Democrats at a state level are switching parties in the wake of the November drubbing. The complaint? The Democratic party (national) has become too liberal and doesn’t reflect the values of the more conservative among them. Zell Miller, who made it clear he felt that way, was apparently only in the vanguard of the movement away from liberal Democrats. And those Blue Dogs left in Congress, now that they’re not needed by the majority, have all but been cut off from the Congressional Democratic leadership. They’re simply too conservative for the Pelosi crowd.
Anyway, this week should be interesting. CPAC is undergoing a bit of a controversy concerning the group GOProud being allowed at the table (it’s a gay Conservative group – well according to fiscal cons, social cons don’t buy that because of GOProud’s stance on gay marriage) and a new controversy which claims that the board of ACU, which puts on CPAC, has been infiltrated by Muslims.
And then there are the usual controversies.
Like I say, should be interesting. As the old saying goes, may the dragon you find be well fed.
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Kevin Drum has a blog post up at MoJo in which he supports a claim by Tim Lee that American Liberalism “has incorporated libertarian critiques at a striking rate over the past few decades”. The claim is that is true especially in the area of economic policy. For instance:
Income tax rates are way down. Numerous industries have been deregulated. Most price controls have been abandoned. Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining. Trade has been steadily liberalized.
I guess that can all be categorized as “it depends on your perspective”. While personal income taxes are down in comparison with where liberals would prefer them to be – especially for the rich – corporate taxes remain the highest in the free world. And, speaking of economics and libertarians, we at least understand who ends up paying corporate taxes – and it ain’t corporations.
This is major blind spot of the liberal side of the house. If they admit that corporate taxes are passed along to consumers, then their basis for taxing in such a regressive manner would be questioned. So they continue to pretend that by demanding higher and higher corporate taxes, they’re somehow calling for equity in income distribution – assuming government will take the money collected from corporations as taxes and parcel it out to those who need it most. And further assuming that’s a function of government.
Of course what they end up doing is having corporations take money from those who must have their products but can least afford the cost of the increase driven by the taxation. “Benevolent government” then takes the money, after it takes its cut, and passes it back to the “most deserving”, or the “most in need”. Corporations then, are a tax collection entity, not a tax paying entity.
What happens when corporate taxes are raised is it has an adverse effect on the corporation’s consumer base. If they get high enough, that base begins looking for less costly alternatives or quits buying altogether.
All that to set up this next Drum statement:
The problem is that a system that generates enormous income inequality also generates enormous power inequality — and if corporations and the rich are allowed to amass huge amounts of economic power, they’ll always use that power to keep their own tax rates low. It’s nearly impossible to create a high-tax/high-service state if your starting point is a near oligarchy where the rich control the levers of political power.
You could most likely spend all day on those two sentences. Completely left out, of course, is who is paying income taxes. What we all know is somewhere around 50% of us aren’t. So when we see discussions about taxes we have to keep that in mind. More importantly – and after all the talk of having much in common with libertarianism – check out what Drum’s ideal is: “a high-tax/high-service state”.
Obviously the libertarian camp would find nothing to agree with there.
Essentially Drum’s argument is that we, as a nation, have the right to demand such a state. But while the “corporations and rich” own the “levers of political power” we’ll never achieve it. Solution? Implied: take those levers away from them. Method? Well all of this has been a prelude to the real reason for the post:
I am, fundamentally, old fashioned about this stuff: I think of the world as largely a set of competing power centers. Economics matters, but power matters at least as much, and I think that students of political economy these days spend way too much time on the economy This explains, for example, why I regret the demise of private sector labor unions. It’s not because I don’t recognize their many pathologies, or even the fact that sometimes they stand in the way of economic efficiency. I’m all in favor of trying to regulate the worst aspects of this. But large corporations have their pathologies too, and those pathologies are far worse because there’s no longer any effective countervailing power to fight them. Unions used to provide that power. Today nobody does.
This is the common cry of the liberal today. The need for a “countervailing power” to fight the power of corporations – real or imagined. Weapon of choice? Unions. But the power that unions fight against has nothing to do with the supposed problem with corporations that Drum has outlined. Taxes. Name a single union that has, in any time in the past, rallied and protested to get their corporation’s taxes raised? They understand what such an increase could mean to labor. As for power, unions are more concerned with the internal power of a corporation as it relates to wages and benefits. It is only recently, with the addition of union PACs, that the union movement has begun to address corporate political power.
And if I had to guess, that’s what Drum secretly laments. As private sector unions decline, so does any “countervailing” political power he thinks unions could wield. Of course, it doesn’t help when they act like this . Unions are and have been the liberal left’s power center in their war against corporations for centuries. If you don’t believe that, you just need to review recent elections and their pattern of donations:
The UAW has considerable clout in the Democratic party. In the 2010 election cycle, the union spent $10.1 million through its political action committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was down from $13.1 million in the 2008 election.
The center said that 100 percent of the union’s 2010 federal donations — $1.4 million — went to Democrats. The funds come from voluntary contributions by members and retirees.
That’s the real impact of the “demise of private unions”. It is also why those like Drum support any effort that makes organizing easier for unions today.
So when Tim Lee writes that "Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining," I just have to shake my head. Competitive for whom? For the upper middle class, labor markets are fairly competitive, but then, they always have been. They never needed collective bargaining to begin with. For everyone else, though, employers have been steadily gaining at their expense for decades. Your average middle class worker has very little real bargaining power anymore, and this isn’t due to chance or to fundamental changes in the economy. (You can organize the service sector just as effectively as the manufacturing sector as long as the law gives you the power to organize effectively in the first place.) Rather, it’s due to a long series of deliberate policy choices that we’ve made over the past 40 years.
But here’s the bottom line: if there were indeed a crying need for unionization felt by the “average middle class worker”, the ability to join a union (or form one) still exists. The problem is, it’s mostly fair and thus doesn’t favor the union as previous organizing laws did. However, if the organizing drive meets the criteria outlined in labor law,bingo, a union is born and members are able to cash in on the supposed benefits of such a relationship.
The problem, however, is fewer and fewer people apparently see any advantage in such a relationship anymore, if declining membership is any indication. Like anything else in the world, the consumer of a product has to convince themselves that the product’s benefit justifies its price. It seems that is no longer the case when it comes to private unions. Drum prefers to blame the demise on “policy”. I see it as the consumer saying, “no thanks” after the price/benefit comparison is made. The fact is policy or law doesn’t prohibit the formation of unions. Only votes do. And for quite some time, the votes – of those they would unionize – haven’t favored private union organizers.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that corporations and the rich know this perfectly well, even if lots of liberals have forgotten it. They know exactly what the biggest threat to their wealth is, and it’s not high tax rates. This is why the steady erosion of labor rights has been, by far, their single biggest obsession since the end of World War II. Not taxes, unions. If, right now, you were to offer corporations and the rich a choice between (a) passage of EFCA or (b) a return to Clinton-era tax rates on high incomes, they wouldn’t even blink. If you put a gun to their head and they had to choose between one or the other, they’d pay the higher taxes without a peep. That’s because, on the level of raw power, they know how the world works.
Of course he’s right, but not necessarily for the reasons he believes. Unions have grown into an impediment. A costly impediment to competitiveness. Whether anyone likes to admit it or not, labor is a commodity. Despite the emotional arguments of the left concerning labor and “real people”, people who want to work aren’t owed a job or a certain level of compensation. They have to be worth it to earn it.
So yes, corporations are more concerned about unions than taxes, at least to the point that passing along increased taxes starts costing them customers. Then they pay more attention to taxes. And if taxes do start to cost them customers? Where is the easiest commodity for a corporation to cut in order to maintain a competitive price as it collects the increased taxes? Yes – labor.
Without apparently realizing, the liberal left’s call for increasing corporate taxes dramatically for their “high tax/high services” state is a call for more unemployment. Unions would attempt thwart the ability for corporations to adjust headcount to remain competitive. Result? The US steel industry redux.
Is that really what the liberal left wants? I can pretty much guarantee it isn’t what any libertarian would want. But perhaps it is the fact they don’t even realize how it all works (and what they’re really wishing for) that’s the most dangerous aspect of all of this.
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It is nanny-staters like Joe Ozersky who drive me up a wall. They represent that group of people with mindset that common Americans simply don’t have the ability and wherewithal to run their own lives or those of their families. And, as expected, they applaud government’s unrequested and unwanted intrusion in their lives to control aspects (or modify behavior) that they simply cannot fathom real Americans doing. Or at least not doing to their satisfaction.
Ozersky has decided obesity is a problem (he apparently was a fat kid who ate lots of hamburgers). Ozersky has decided that one of the main reasons for the problems is fast (processed) food and in particular McDonald’s Happy Meals. So Ozersky is just tickled to death that the intrusive board of supervisors in San Francisco has chosen to ban Happy Meals. He correctly identifies the source of such intrusion:
Last week’s elections may have seemed like a repudiation of liberalism, but the San Francisco board of supervisors appeared unfazed. The city’s governing body went ahead and fired a bunker buster into the Happy Meal, decreeing that restaurants cannot put free toys in meals that exceed set thresholds for calories, sugar or fat.
One of the reasons liberalism, or in its new incarnation, "progressivism" is in such disrepute is because of foolishness like this. Ozersky’s next line claims "libertarians are livid".
Everyone should be "livid". Since when is it up to a city board of supervisors – elected to keep the peace and make sure the garbage is picked up on time – to decide what is or isn’t appropriate to feed one’s child?
Ozersky, however, applauds the effort but believes it is just a beginning and, in fact, needs to go further:
No, the problem with the ban is that it doesn’t go far enough. America’s tots aren’t getting supersized simply by eating Happy Meals. In a recent nutrition commentary that is making waves in food-politics circles, in part because NYU’s Marion Nestle posted excerpts of it on her blog, University of São Paulo professor Carlos Monteiro makes the case that "the rapid rise in consumption of ultra-processed food and drink products, especially since the 1980s, is the main dietary cause of the concurrent rapid rise in obesity and related diseases throughout the world." And reversing that trend will be a lot harder than making Happy Meals a little less happy.
But still, you have to start somewhere, and I understand why the San Francisco supervisors picked Happy Meals as their beachhead.
So the war, apparently is on "processed food", all of which Ozersky would prefer to see eliminated. But is processed food really the culprit behind the obesity "epidemic". Ozersky cites Nestle’s work as a definitive yes. However, a nutrition professor recently shot the claim in the head with an experiment he ran on himself:
Mark Haub, who teaches at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., told FoxNews.com he has lost 27 pounds in two months eating approximately 1,800 calories a day – and those calories came from foods like snack cakes, candy bars and even potato chips – basically anything he could get from a vending machine.
Haub said before the diet, he was eating up to 3,000 calories a day and weighed 201 pounds.
Key take away – it isn’t necessarily the type of food that makes you obese – it is the amount of that food, in calories, that does so. Always has been.
The point, of course, is obesity is caused by eating too many calories and not exercising sufficiently to burn off the excess. Banning Happy Meals won’t change that at all. As Tanya Zuckerbrot, a NY dietician noted, “it doesn’t matter if you’re eating Twinkies or Brussels sprouts – it’s all about your caloric intake.”
And unless the state plans on issuing meals and monitoring your every bite, banning a specific meal isn’t going to change the habits that have caused someone to become obese. Nor will bans on salt, sugary drinks or any other choice the nanny-staters think they can take from the public. It is a fairly simple concept to understand – “The laws of thermodynamics dictate that if you consume fewer calories than your body burns, you will create a caloric deficit resulting in weight loss.”
Yet those like Ozersky choose to ignore it in favor of government action to take choices and freedoms away from people. McDonalds is obviously – at least in progressive circles – an evil purveyor of bad “processed” food. And progressives believe it is their sworn duty to protect you from yourself and those corporations which prey on you.
Why? Because you’re brainwashed:
Again and again, efforts to promote fresh fruit and produce in low-income urban areas have failed for the simple reason that Americans have been brainwashed. We have been conditioned, starting in utero, to prefer high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar concoctions rather than their less exciting, more natural culinary cousins.
Really? I simply don’t recall that as being conditioned preference of mine. Instead, visits to places such as McDonalds were irregular and not particularly common. They were “treats” on occasion. But they were hardly conditioning me for such a diet.
Where such conditioning takes place, if anywhere, is in the home. It is there the bulk of all food is consumed and, pretty much, in the quantities desired. It is there where children (and adults) are either encouraged to be active or left to decide for themselves (play outside or do XBox) their activity level.
Banning toys in Happy Meals is simply an intrusion with no effect. It’s an exercise in power, nothing more. It has no beneficial effect and it is another in a long line of government imposed restrictions on freedom.
In his conclusion, Ozersky asks, “And why are eight people in San Francisco the only ones who seem willing to step up and do something unpopular to address such a serious issue?”
Because they’re as enamored with the power they wield as Ozersky seems to be and just as clueless. This isn’t about doing anything to address a "serious issue". This is an exercise in power cloaked in some feel good nonsense. It is about a group of people who feel they are entitled by their position to decide what is or isn’t acceptable for others and how those others should live their lives. This isn’t about doing something good, this is about stretching the envelope and seeing if they can get away with it.
If in fact they are allowed too, you can spend hours imagining what they’ll next decide you’re too stupid to realize or control and need their enlightened and progressive hand to stay you from your self-destructive ways.
Freedom is choice – and this bunch of progressives are all about limiting choice.
ASIDE: check out the comments to the Ozersky article. Heartening.
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