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The Other ‘L’ Word: Why I am a Libertarian

by Michael Shermer, May 12 2009

In a nutshell, I am a libertarian because conservatives are a bunch of gun-totting, Hummer-driving, hard-drinking, Bible-thumping, black-and-white-thinking, fist-pounding, shoe-stomping, morally-hypocritical blowhards, and liberals are a bunch of tree-hugging, whale-saving, hybrid-driving, sandle-wearing, bottled-water-drinking, ACLU-supporting, flip-flopping, wishy-washy, Namby Pamby bedwetters. There’s a better way. Libertarianism.

Michael Shermer’s recent Skepticblog posts about libertarianism have drawn an enormous volume of commentary. To better assess the tone of the comments, Junior Skeptic editor Daniel Loxton sat down with Skepticblog webmaster William Bull to undertake an informal content analysis for internal review.

This was a lengthy, brute-force task. All of Michael Shermer’s posts were parceled out to a team of volunteers (one reviewer per thread) who read every single comment — and assigned each of those thousands of comments a positive, neutral, or negative rating based on simple guidelines (“NEUTRAL: Too close to call, a non-sequitur, or expresses something not directly related to the topic of the author’s post”).

Individual commenters were allowed only one unique “vote” per thread.

The results of this back-of-the-envelope analysis (current to May 8th) are presented below, along with Dr. Shermer’s thanks for the constructive comments.


click thumbnail to view a graphic display of all unique positive, negative, and neutral comments

click thumbnail to view a graphic display of net audience reaction (positive minus negative)

Okay, now that I have your attention, let me address the constructive comments posted in response to last week’s blog post on how I became a libertarian, and this week explain why. But first, what is a libertarian? I hate labels, and as you can see from the comments people make certain assumptions based on the label instead of the person and particular beliefs. Nevertheless, labels are cognitive shortcuts, so the shortest thumbnail is this: a libertarian is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. It’s an alternative to the standard left-right linear spectrum, and it allows one to nuance positions on different issues. For example, I am pro-choice, pro gay marriage, and pro separation of church and state, which makes me a card-carrying liberal, right? Well, I am also in favor of lower taxes, cutting welfare programs, privatizing social security, and replacing the income tax with either a flat tax or abolishing it altogether and replacing it with a national income tax, which makes me a card-carrying conservative, right? So what am I?

(Parenthetically, I find it troubling that most atheists, agnostics, skeptics, free thinkers, humanists and secular humanists are liberal. The reason I find this troubling is not because I am not a liberal (although as noted above, I agree with liberals on many issues), but because most people think that the skeptical/humanist movement is (or should be) politically neutral. If it were, there would be roughly a 50/50 split of liberals and conservatives. But it isn’t, and I think that’s a problem. Humanists, for example, are supposed to be in favor of all humans, but when virtually our entire constituency votes Democratic, that means we are missing half the human population! There’s something wrong with this picture. I’m not saying that we should all be libertarians; only that a more politically diversified membership would indicate that our movement is more politically balanced. When I point out this discrepancy to my liberal friends and colleagues, they predictably explain the left-leaning bias as due to the fact that liberals are right! Of course… My conservative friends say the same thing when I note the conservative bias in businesses and commerce related organizations.)

Basically, libertarians are for freedom and liberty for individuals, and we prefer not to have the state involved in either our bedrooms or our boardrooms. This is not a simple hedonistic “I want to move to Idaho and smoke pot and watch porn and the rest of you all be damned” (although I’m sure there are libertarians who want precisely this). Rather, libertarianism is based on the principle that individuals should be free to choose for themselves. Libertarianism is grounded in the Principle of Freedom: All people are free to think, believe, and act as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the equal freedom of others.

There is a very simple reason why libertarians do not like government: it is not just that government is so inefficient (although it is), or that it elevates graft and corruption to new levels of bureaucratic efficiency (although it does), or that it treats its citizens like we’re a bunch of juvenile helpless pinhead morons in need of a nanny to take care of us from womb to tomb (we aren’t and we don’t); it is because it infringes on our freedoms to choose.

Of course, the devil is in the details of what constitutes “infringement,” but as I outlined in The Mind of the Market, there are at least a dozen essentials to freedom:

  1. The rule of law.
  2. Property rights.
  3. Economic stability through a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system.
  4. A reliable infrastructure and the freedom to move about the country.
  5. Freedom of speech and the press.
  6. Freedom of association.
  7. Mass education.
  8. Protection of civil liberties.
  9. A robust military for protection of our liberties from attacks by other states.
  10. A potent police force for protection of our freedoms from attacks by other people within the state.
  11. A viable legislative system for establishing fair and just laws.
  12. An effective judicial system for the equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws.

Under our current system of politics government clearly has a role in most (but not all) of these 12, but only in the capacity of what we might call Preventative Rights: preventing others from infringing on our freedoms (taking my property, preventing me from speaking or writing or associating, inhibiting my freedom to exchange with others on a voluntary basis, etc.). By contrast, government should not be in the business of Providing Rights: providing goods and services that require the infringement of our freedoms (e.g., taking my property through taxes to pay for someone else’s education, health care, vacations, paternity leaves, etc.).

Basically I believe in individual choice and responsibility. You make your choices and you are responsible for the consequences of those choices. Of course, we are not just individuals living in isolation; we are spouses and significant others, we are members of families and extended families, we are constituents of social communities, and we are citizens of societies. As such, we have a moral obligation to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves (children, the elderly, the infirm), to help those who cannot help themselves (the mentally ill, severely handicapped), and to give aid and comfort to victims of natural disasters and totalitarian regimes, but through private choice and charity.

It is none of the government’s business who I choose to help and give aid and charity to, and I find it deeply morally repugnant that bureaucratic agencies have the legal right to confiscate my wealth through force or the threat of force (taxes), launder my money and waste most of it to run the government organizations that process my money (with dollops allocated for paying for bridges to nowhere and prostitutes for politicians), and redistribute it to people who I do not know. Libertarians are not uncharitable selfish hedonists; we just want the freedom to choose.

Okay, I know, you’re all sick of hearing about the other “L Word,” so for next week’s blog I’ll write about my experiences at the Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle Upon Tyne, the UK’s version of TED.

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608 Responses to “The Other ‘L’ Word: Why I am a Libertarian”

  1. db0 says:

    Actually, most Atheist and Skeptics are not Liberals, they are Libertarian Socialists which is much closer to the Anarchistic tradition. They just don’t know it and stick to the US “Liberal” label (which in the rest of the world is called “Social Democrat” but nevermind).

    As for the only 3 possible choices, well, you’d be wrong. There’s also another choice which is miles beyond right-”libertarianism” (Aka Minarchist Capitalism or Private state capitalism) and that is Anarchism.

    • TLP says:

      I see little difference between Left & Right libertarians. As long as it’s all voluntary, we speak the same language.

      • db0 says:

        You see little difference because you don’t look deep enough. Libertarian Socialists deny the ligitimacy of Private Property and support Use-based property rights, i.e. Possession.

      • BWS says:

        Libertarian Socialist? Sorry, but if one is a socialist, it precludes one from being a Libertarian. If one is Libertarian, it precludes socialism. You may do all the mental gymnastics you wish but Libertarians are fiscally conservative. That’s one of the major points of Libertarianism. The government must not confiscate personal property to redistribute it to others. The government should not impose itself on the free market any more than is necessary to provide very basic services–military, police, etc. Libertarianism does not allow for a socialist government.

      • db0 says:

        Hint: Libertarianism predates Rothbard. I gave a link below. Educate yourself

      • Bran says:

        There are different kinds of libertarianism and socialism, and varying degrees of those kinds. You, for example, accept the government’s role in maintaining a military and policing it’s citizens. A true, hardcore libertarian wouldn’t even put up with that level of government interferance. Therefore, on a scale of 1 to 10, where hardcore libertarian is a 1, and mild libertarian is a 10, you would probably be a 3 or a 4. Socialism is the same way. Libertarian socialists believe that people should come together on their own, of their own free will, to tackle any and all social problems. They believe that we need to face these problems ourselves, without any government at all. A church that feeds the homeless is a good example of libertarian socialism; so are volunteer fire departments. So libertarian socialism is a very real ideology, albeit one that has a fatal flaw when taken to it’s full extent. That flaw is that it gives people too much credit. Under libertarian socialism alone, with no central government, society would crumble under the weight of it’s own stupidity, ineptitude, greed, and selfishness. Human beings are generally good in nature, but there are just enough pieces of shit out there to ruin everything for the rest of us. Humankind lived thousands of years without a strong central government, and no utopian societies ever came from it. There’s a reason for that. You can blame that jackass neighbor of yours down the street that everyone hates. Yeah, THAT guy, and all of his dumbass ancestors who were a bunch of jackasses too.

      • James says:

        > Libertarian Socialist? Sorry, but if one is a socialist, it precludes one from being a Libertarian.

        You are demonstrating an ignorance of the history of libertarian ideology. The first person to espouse libertarian principles was a communist. Libertarian Socialism shortly followed.

        The coupling of Libertarian principles with undying faith in the infallibility of laissez-faire markets is a relatively recent phenomena that is largely represented in the U.S. and is tightly associated with Objectivism. Most foreigners immediately think of anarchists or socialists in reference to the word libertarian.

      • TLP says:

        So Libertarian Socialists aren’t really socialists at all, because they would deny me of my property rights.

        “Over my dead body” :)

      • TLP says:

        I meant libertarians. They’re not really libertarians :).

        How do they make me give up my property rights, and who would form the committee that decides what I am entitled to use?

      • db0 says:

        They would deny “sticky” property rights in general yes. They would not deny you of your possessions

    • cputter says:

      “Libertarian socialist” is a bit of an oxymoron. Chomsky, being a linguist, should have picked up on this, though he’s not very bright when it comes to anything dealing with economics.

      Private property is fundamental to human freedom. If you can not own the fruits of your labour and cannot choose how your labour is to be employed in which sense can you possibly be free?

      Economic liberty is a prerequisite of civil liberties. Where is your freedom of speech if you can not freely choose which ISP, newspaper, magazine or telephone company is to deliver your message? Where is your freedom of religion if you are not free to use the land you own for building a temple? Where is your freedom of belief if you are not free to choose which book store to buy books from, or which teacher to pay to educate you? Where is your freedom of expression if you are not free to choose which clothing store to buy clothes from?

      Socialists tend to have a pie in the sky belief that people are only free if their needs are freely provided for. Reality unfortunately comes in the way of this. Resources are scarce. There is no superabundant supply of food, houses, bricks, electricians, teachers, doctors, electricity, etc. ad infinitum…

      To satisfy every ones wants these resources need to be allocated as efficiently as possible, any form of waste leads to someone’s wants not being satisfied. Up until now free markets are the most efficient way we know of to allocate resources, and will most likely remain so until that day that the most perfect of all central planners, God, comes down to read all our thoughts so that he can determine our wants so that he can control us in our labours.

      • db0 says:

        “Libertarian socialist” is a bit of an oxymoron. Chomsky, being a linguist, should have picked up on this.

        As a matter of fact he has picked it up and of course you’re horribly wrong. Not only is Libertarian Socialist not an oxymoron but the other way around actually, Right Libertarianism (or Libertarian Capitalism) is the oxymoron, as the builtin authority structure of Capitalism counters libertarianism.

        Private property is fundamental to human freedom. If you can not own the fruits of your labour and cannot choose how your labour is to be employed in which sense can you possibly be free?

        Your argument has 2 big holes. 1. I agree that people should own the result of their labour, which is why I am opposed to the capitalist system under which the vast majority do NOT in fact retain the full result of their labour but rather only part of it, the rest of which goes to their employer.
        2. Your argument that PP is fundamental to human freedom is unargued for. I suggest that use-rights (i.e. possession) are necessary in every society and for allowing freedom, but PP has the exact opposite effect, with the owner of PP having absolute rule over an area they do not use, and thus taking the freedom away from those who do.

        Economic liberty is a prerequisite of civil liberties. Where is your freedom of speech if you can not freely choose which ISP, newspaper, magazine or telephone company is to deliver your message?

        No. Equality is a prequisite of civil liberties. Economic liberty only leads to freedom for the rich. To take your example, where is your freedom os speech if you cannot afford an ISP, newspaper, magazine or telephone company to deliver your message?

        The rest of your examples follow a similar logic.

        Reality unfortunately comes in the way of this. Resources are scarce. There is no superabundant supply of food, houses, bricks, electricians, teachers, doctors, electricity, etc. ad infinitum…

        It is rich to have a right-”libertarian” talk about how reality contradicts me, when he bases his whole argument on debunked economic theories and “synthetic a priories”

        Nevertheless, exactly because resources are scarce, PP is counter-productive, as it makes them even more scarce by allowing some to own much more than they use, therefore putting the rest in a social disadvantage and forcing them to exploitation. So not only does reality not contradict me, it practically screams approval.

        Up until now free markets are the most efficient way we know of to allocate resources, and will most likely remain so until that day that the most perfect of all central planners, God, comes down to read all our thoughts so that he can determine our wants so that he can control us in our labours.

        Untrue. Free Markets are only capable of “efficient allocation” where efficient allocation is defined of whatever the do. As such, you’re begging the question.
        If you want to argue about efficient allocation, then you have to first define it. What is it? Based on human needs as I would define it, Free Markets are an abject failure.

      • cputter says:

        Chomsky seems rather confused with what the term libertarian means in America proposing that it “advocates total tyranny”. Perhaps he should go ask the people that call themselves libertarians over at Cato or Reason what they think of that. Or perhaps check the dictionary where it’s used as an antonym for authority: http://student.britannica.com/comptons/thesaurus?va=authoritarian

        the builtin authority structure of Capitalism counters libertarianism

        How exactly? As long as there is no aggression and everybody freely chooses to work for the company they want as part of that authoritative structure how does that ‘counter’ their liberty? Of course if the company can only exist through the force of the state you’d have a point. Though that would bring us to an anarchist / minarchist debate.

        Your argument has 2 big holes. 1. I agree that people should own the result of their labour, which is why I am opposed to the capitalist system under which the vast majority do NOT in fact retain the full result of their labour but rather only part of it, the rest of which goes to their employer.

        So the employer is not entitled to the results of his labour? Investors not entitled to the results of their labour? If the employee could earn more money if she were self-employed (and thus keep the full results of her labour), clearly she would do so. Yet she chooses not to. Perhaps this is because another employer can add more value to her labour by organizing her work with other employees, by attracting the cooperation of investors to provide capital for said employees to make use of. If she is free to choose and chooses to work for a company, clearly that must be in her best interest. Even though the employer is making a profit and the investors earning dividends.

        2. Your argument that PP is fundamental to human freedom is unargued for. I suggest that use-rights (i.e. possession) are necessary in every society and for allowing freedom, but PP has the exact opposite effect, with the owner of PP having absolute rule over an area they do not use, and thus taking the freedom away from those who do.

        Maybe I’m misunderstanding your proposition of ‘possession’. If a thief steals my car and is thus arguably in possession of it, does it become his property? What if I stop using my car because I’m taking the bus to work, would it stop being my property because I’m not using it? How about after a decade of not using it? For unowned property (land for instance) I’m in favour of Rothbard’s homesteading principle, which is based on who actually makes use of the land. (Your proposition sounds very similar to what Ayn Rand proposed, ie. people only have a right to what they can productively use irrespective of prior PP claims)

        Equality is a prequisite of civil liberties.

        If that were true we’d never have civil liberties, seeing as how we’re not all equal. No matter how PC you’d like to be. It is in fact our diversity that makes our individual lives better through cooperation with others.

        “Socialists tend to have a pie in the sky belief that people are only free if their needs are freely provided for.”

        It seems you’re not going to argue against this, which would be pointless since your entire comment makes use of this definition of freedom. I’d propose a different definition of freedom that is more based on reality and most people intuitively believe.

        At any given moment reality allows us only a finite number of actions which we can initiate, whether these be physical or mental.
        Freedom is the absence of coercion or constraint in choice of action.

        That is the way the word “freedom” is commonly used. So to make everyone “free” in your sense by giving them free food, free clothing and free ipods we would need to magically change reality.

        Based on human needs as I would define it, Free Markets are an abject failure.

        Which one would expect if markets were based on needs. Human needs are infinite. And as I said before resources are scarce, so no economy (except through the grace of God perhaps) would ever be able to allocate those resources. Fortunately free markets are based on prices which are determined by supply and demand driven by consumers. They are efficient in that they allocate scarce resources to where they have the greatest demand by restricting them to uses where there is lower demand. Of course they are not perfect, though the best way to allocate said resources we know of.

        It is rich to have a right-”libertarian” talk about how reality contradicts me, when he bases his whole argument on debunked economic theories and “synthetic a priories”

        Exactly which debunked theories are you referring too? Where is your proof that they have been debunked?

        Can you please point me to somewhere where I can educate myself regarding economic systems where every ones needs are provided for.

        Regards,
        - A Sceptical anarcho-capitalist

      • db0 says:

        Chomsky seems rather confused with what the term libertarian means in America proposing that it “advocates total tyranny”

        You argument is basically that Choamsky is wrong because you don’t understand why he uses the term. An argument from personal incredulity.

        As a matter of fact, it does advocate total tyranny for vast majority of people as private property is indeed absolute tyranny of the owner on those who use it.

        How exactly? As long as there is no aggression and everybody freely chooses to work for the company they want as part of that authoritative structure how does that ‘counter’ their liberty?

        1. Because liberty is more than simply the freedom to choose masters.
        2. Because while working for a capitalist, you must surrender all the liberties he wishes you to if you want to keep your job.
        3. Because inequality makes “free choice of work” a farce and in fact, the state on the behest of the capitalist class has worked hard to undermine exactly this free choice, by limiting the choice of all people to two. Work (and surrender your liberty) or die.

        Though that would bring us to an anarchist / minarchist debate.

        Companies and Landlords can only ever exist through the power of the state which enforces private property. Otherwise, people would appropriate the land and capital.

        So the employer is not entitled to he results of his labour? Investors not entitled to the results of their labour?

        If they did labour, yes, they deserve _an equal_ part of the fruits of production. But most capitalists and investors don’t really work. And those who work, do not do productive work, they only move number around and call that “making wealth”.

        If the employee could earn more money if she were self-employed (and thus keep the full results of her labour), clearly she would do so.

        What an appropriate display of ignorance by an “anarcho”-capitalist. There is reason why people don’t become self employed even though they want to, and that is because they can’t. They can’t because the state and the natural oligarchies of capital erect impassable barriers to entry.

        Again, look at reality, not what your Misean assumptions tell you.

        If she is free to choose and chooses to work for a company, clearly that must be in her best interest. Even though the employer is making a profit and the investors earning dividends.

        Ah, the favourite cyclical reasoning of Economics. If she “freely” chooses to work for a company it’s because she wants to. And she wants to because obviously she “freely chose” to do it. Ignoring of course the effects of inequality in society.

        People do not go to work in jobs they hate because they want to. They go because the alternative is worse, and they’ve been forced to only have that alternative when their choices were taken away from them by force.

        Maybe I’m misunderstanding your proposition of ‘possession’.

        You are. And when you assumption of what I mean seems absurd, that’s because it is.

        When I say possession I mean that the onwership claims of anything will be based on use-rights, ie who is currently using it. This would be enforced by society (laws, peer pressure, what have you). So it doesn’t mean that as soon as I leave something unatended, someone can take it, but rather that my claim is based on this use, rather than an abstract ownership based on “homesteading” which is by itself based on unargued premises.

        If that were true we’d never have civil liberties, seeing as how we’re not all equal.

        Sigh, no. Egalitarianism does not require identical people, quite the contrary. It basks in individuality. THe only requirement is that people cannot rule over others by any means.

        On the contrary, Capitalism does require uniformity, which is why capitalists work so hard to enforce education for consumers and placid workers, factories require as little individuality as possible and so on.

        It seems you’re not going to argue against this, which would be pointless since your entire comment makes use of this definition of freedom.

        People can only act free or make “voluntary choices” when they are equal (not identical) and one way to do this, yes, is to allow them to fulfill their basic needs (which is incidentally why Capitalism goes into crisis on full employment).

        Freedom is the absence of coercion or constraint in choice of action.

        Which is why freedom under capitalism is a farce, since there is always passive coercion affecting people (starvation, homelessness).

        That is the way the word “freedom” is commonly used. So to make everyone “free” in your sense by giving them free food, free clothing and free ipods we would need to magically change reality.

        I don’t propose to give people “free stuff”. I say that freedom can only be exercised when “any” form of coercion is absent. Passive or Active. YOu limit it only to active, while ignoring the effects of inequality on freedom.
        Very simply, any “free” exchange between inequal individuals, will benefit the strongest. Even your Austrian school accepted this.

        There’s no need to magically change reality to allow egalitarianism to occur. This has been achieved many times already (for short times of course, before being crushed by the capitalist backed state).

        Human needs are infinite.

        Actually no, they’re not. Objectively, people only need 3 things. Food, Shelter and Friendship. The rest of their needs are trained.

        This is of course why Consumerism and Marketing developed, to convince people that they “need” more than these (Which of course came about because people before the onset of consumering would rather work less than make more money and have more stuff, which was, of course, bad for Capitalism)

        Fortunately free markets are based on prices which are determined by supply and demand driven by consumers.

        Fail again. Prices are not based on S&D. Go ask any company how they determine their prices.

        They are efficient in that they allocate scarce resources to where they have the greatest effective demand by restricting them to uses where there is lower effective demand.

        FTFY

        Do you know what the difference between demand and effective demand is? If not, go find out and then talk about how demand is fulfilled

        Of course they are not perfect, though the best way to allocate said resources we know of.

        Basically it’s the best way to allocate resources to fulfill the needs of the rich only, instead of the needs in general.

        So, as I said before, it’s begging the question.

        Exactly which debunked theories are you referring too? Where is your proof that they have been debunked?

        Lets see: Perfect competition, Monetarism, Equilibrium (or equilibrium of Labour or Credit market of the Austrians) and more

        Proof is ample. Coming from Anarchists, Marxist, Keynesians, Ex-Austrians and common sense.

        Here’s a nice compilation of Economic pwnage.

        You can read the rest of the FAQ to answer your second question

      • Peter says:

        Lets see: Perfect competition, Monetarism, Equilibrium (or equilibrium of Labour or Credit market of the Austrians) and more

        Yes; those are all things debunked by the Austrians!

      • db0 says:

        Yes; those are all things debunked by the Austrians!

        Be serious. Austians support Labour and Credit market equilibrium (inconsistent, I know, but there you have it). They also support Marginalist production (also refuted). Diminishing returns of production (also refuted). The labour “market” theory (ie that freer market on labour would naturally cleari) (also refuted) and more.

        The Keynesians have basically disemboweled the Austrian theory already in the middle of the last century (which is incidentally why the Austiran school is so marginal in the big picture) but I don’t bet on you knowing about it.

      • @db0

        So the employer is not entitled to he results of his labour? Investors not entitled to the results of their labour?

        If they did labour, yes, they deserve _an equal_ part of the fruits of production. But most capitalists and investors don’t really work. And those who work, do not do productive work, they only move number around and call that “making wealth”.

        So the only worthwhile labor is physical labor? What will happen when technology advances to the point where nary a human being on this planet is required to execute any effort of physical necessity? Does the capitalist and investor not engage in labor of the mind and of emotion? I can tell you from personal experience as I struggle to become of the capitalist and investor class, that “creating wealth” is not easy on the mind and certainly not easy on the emotional self because of the degree of personal risk such activity entails! db0, why are you not attempting to become part of the capitalist and/or investor class yourself? Is it because you lack the education for such? The connections? The aptitude? The capacity to handle the emotions associated with the commensurate risks? Those who have dedicated the time and expense towards the proper education, worked towards constructing the appropriate personal network, worked for the proper reputation and learned to handle the sometime overwhelming stress of financial risk taking (especially when one has a family to take care of) ought to be properly rewarded for this level of investment.

        CEOs of very large companies take amazing risks, since the fortunes of their company as a whole is in their hands. However the fortunes of a company can wax and wane due to circumstances completely beyond the CEO’s ability to control. A CEO of a public company whose stock nose dived far enough to be delisted will certainly be fired, in most cases even if it could be proven that the problem was not through any fault of theirs. (This usually happens under the idea that a CEO who is good at running a company under one set of economic circumstances is probably not specialized to handle the company under differing circumstances.) What does that CEO do now? Does said CEO apply for a job as a cook at McDonald’s?

        “What did you do at your last job?”

        “I was CEO of Boeing.”

        “And, you want a job here, doing what?”

        CEOs are compensated the way they are because the job they have today may be the last job they will ever be able to have without pretending they are somebody they are not. Since the CEO does not engage in physical labor however, does this mean that their efforts and risks are not deserved of reward?

      • @dbo,

        If the employee could earn more money if she were self-employed (and thus keep the full results of her labour), clearly she would do so.

        What an appropriate display of ignorance by an “anarcho”-capitalist. There is reason why people don’t become self employed even though they want to, and that is because they can’t. They can’t because the state and the natural oligarchies of capital erect impassable barriers to entry.

        In a moral system, these sort of barriers do not exist as long as the individual can invent new physical products and products of the mind, as long as the individual is free to associate with whomever they choose and with whomever will accept them and as long as the individual can own the fruits of their labors without fear of confiscation so that they can leverage such property through investment in others or in themselves.

        I consider the system I live under moral because I can work to change my “class” should I choose to do so. I also consider it moral because I know that it does not guarantee me success in my endeavor but merely the choice to pursue said course.

      • db0 says:

        I consider the system I live under moral because I can work to change my “class” should I choose to do so. I also consider it moral because I know that it does not guarantee me success in my endeavor but merely the choice to pursue said course.

        You have a weird concept or morality. Under your idea, chattel slavery would be moral as well, as long as slaves had the capability to buy off their freedom and/or even becomes masters themselves.

        And hey, not all chattel slaves were guaranteed success either.

        But for the rest of us, this concept of morality is absurd

      • db0 says:

        In a moral system, these sort of barriers do not exist as long as the individual can invent new physical products and products of the mind,

        You should change that to say “in my fantasy system” as what you say has basically no relation to reality.

      • db0 says:

        So the only worthwhile labor is physical labor?

        No, the only worthwhile labour is the one that _creates_ new value, whether material or cultural. Labour which is simply about managing other people is not worthwhile, as it’s not needed, nor does it produce anything. “Labour” that is about collecting rent, is not worthwhile. Labour that is about shifting numbers in books (ie stocks) is not worthwhile.

        I can tell you from personal experience as I struggle to become of the capitalist and investor class, that “creating wealth” is not easy on the mind and certainly not easy on the emotional self because of the degree of personal risk such activity entails!

        That is something to be expected when you’re trying to change your class. It’s as difficult however to drop a class as well. This argument does not amount to anything however, only that you are prepared to endure hardship for the right to rule.

        Those who have dedicated the time and expense towards the proper education, worked towards constructing the appropriate personal network, worked for the proper reputation and learned to handle the sometime overwhelming stress of financial risk taking (especially when one has a family to take care of) ought to be properly rewarded for this level of investment.

        Please. Most of the ruling class is born into that position.

        CEOs of very large companies take amazing risks, since the fortunes of their company as a whole is in their hands.

        CEOs are overpaid leeches who one company would be fortunate to be without. They are simply the new nobility

        A company can easily do, and do better without CEOs and managers (empirically proven many many times). But a manager can’t do anything without the workers. As such the wealth belongs to everyone equally _at the least_

        As for CEO compensation and the “risk” and suffering they have. Please, cry me fucking river. The recent bailout perfectly showed how much bullshit what you say is.

      • Chattel slavery is morally wrong because there is no freedom of association involved, but rather coerced association into slavery (even if the slave could eventually purchase their freedom).

        Besides, chattel slavery is economically inefficient for everyone involved.

      • @db0

        Most of the ruling class is born into that position.

        I know from personal experience that if those born into wealth and power do not know the first thing about maintaining (or expanding) that wealth or executing power appropriately they will eventually waste it, leaving nothing for themselves or their kin.

        Losers are still losers in a free society. To the extent that someone born into wealth and power maintains all of that despite their serious deficiencies is probably more indicative of the failure to separate their economic capabilities and activity from the mechanisms of government. Does that make inherited wealth necessarily evil, or does it say something about the nature of the dance between wealth and government? What ought we do about any of this evil? What has worked in practice and what has not?

      • @db0,

        I don’t wish to rule as much as I wish to be able to afford the best life for myself and my family money can buy, which includes the best health care and as much enjoyment as we can afford. I also wish to satisfy my intellectual curiosities, the pursuit of which tend also to make me money.

        “Rule”? Rule what, exactly? What does that mean?

        You have no reason to believe me on any of this, but that’s OK.

      • @db0,

        CEOs are overpaid leeches who one company would be fortunate to be without. They are simply the new nobility

        A company can easily do, and do better without CEOs and managers (empirically proven many many times). But a manager can’t do anything without the workers. As such the wealth belongs to everyone equally _at the least_

        As for CEO compensation and the “risk” and suffering they have. Please, cry me fucking river. The recent bailout perfectly showed how much bullshit what you say is.

        The evidence I have read seems to indicate that in the venture capital business fund manager reputation (past performance) and VC firm reputation are positively correlated with portfolio company performance. However, I have never been introduced to evidence of corporate performance being positively correlated to the performance of an individual line worker. I would say there is an imbalance of individual dependency of the corporation upon senior management more than there is upon the individual worker. Perhaps equity could be equally shared by management as a single entity and the “workers” as a single entity? Who outnumbers whom however? What would be the share of equity by the individual manager versus the individual line worker?

        Here’s a question, do employee owned companies outperform other corporate models? If so, then perhaps the time is to adopt such a model in more widespread fashion. I think, for the sake of profit, if you have some good evidence to show investors, you may find many ears willing to listen.

      • db0 says:

        The evidence I have read seems to indicate that in the venture capital business fund manager reputation (past performance) and VC firm reputation are positively correlated with portfolio company performance.

        Correlation is not Causation and VCs are generally manager run, IE, they do not do productive work at all, just leech profits.

        For most productive companies, Managers are a hassle.

        Perhaps equity could be equally shared by management as a single entity and the “workers” as a single entity? Who outnumbers whom however?

        The workers outnumber management in any productive corporation. Always.

        Here’s a question, do employee owned companies outperform other corporate models?

        Yes. Proven many times
        The reason why they don’t do better in the market is for the same reason most small companies don’t do better, because of the barriers to entry erected by the oligarchy.
        Companies will not be open to employee management either because it takes away the reason for management to exist, and thus management is opposed to it. Such experiments have happened (in the car industry for example) and while immensely succesful, they were scrapped because the bosses were losing control.

      • db0 says:

        “Rule”? Rule what, exactly? What does that mean?

        If you seek to become a member of the Capitalist class, you seek to rule.

        The excuse of wanting a better life for your family holds no ground, when you will base that on worsening the lives of others. You may ignore this unfortunate fact, but it will not go away, and there will be people like me to remind you.

      • db0 says:

        I know from personal experience that if those born into wealth and power do not know the first thing about maintaining (or expanding) that wealth or executing power appropriately they will eventually waste it, leaving nothing for themselves or their kin.

        Yes, just as a very capable lower class person can eventually shift classes, so can a very incompetent upper class person drop.

        This does not change the fact that it is very difficult for either to happen, since the lower class has to work 100 times as hard and is based mostly on luck, while the upper class can simply hire someone to make more wealth for them.

        The empirical evidence of how often people switch classes in our society, of course backs me up. People born in the upper class, tend to stay there dnd people born in lower classes tend to stay there.

        Does that make inherited wealth necessarily evil, or does it say something about the nature of the dance between wealth and government? What ought we do about any of this evil? What has worked in practice and what has not?

        You’d be a fool to think that such gross inequality would disappear. Sure, reducing the role of the democratic state may theoretically allow for more class movement (although empirical evidence again refutes this) but it will also mean that people would be dropping downwards more than climbing upwards. The stability that most people seek in their lives would be ruined and they would cry for a social state to stop this nonsense. As such, your experiment would fail.

      • @db0

        The evidence I have read seems to indicate that in the venture capital business fund manager reputation (past performance) and VC firm reputation are positively correlated with portfolio company performance.

        Correlation is not Causation

        You are correct. However the reasons that Karl Popper identified (finite) falsification as the only way to truly know anything empirically is because positive empirical proof requires sampling of the entire population, which may be impossible such as for every atom in the universe, whereas a single refutation rules out specific hypotheses rather easily. (This is basically the “halting problem” in computer science.) So, in the case of VC management the Null Hypothesis (the falsification statement) is that there exists no correlation between VC manager reputation (experience) and fund performance. The result is the opposite, and in fact that correlation seems to be the only significant correlation that can be made to fund performance (which I believe included general VC performance in the market, general economic performance and so on). While you are correct in stating that “correlation is not causation” in this case the VC/management reputation correlation is the only correlation, positive or negative, left unrefuted.

        VCs are generally manager run, IE, they do not do productive work at all, just leech profits.

        No productive work, you say? I would assert sir, that you know nothing at all about managing a venture capital fund. In fact, I personally have found that role to be one of the truly useful management roles I have ever encountered.

        Managers leech profits? For most of my career I have been an information technology architect and consultant—the consummate outsider. I have neither been management nor line worker. In companies large, medium and small I see management leech profits as well as line workers. It is easy for me to cop an attitude about people in general after 25 years’ worth of experience, and say that most people are not worth what they are paid; this includes Americans, Canadians, Indians, Chinese and people of all nationalities I have worked for. It is easy to get all “Nietzschian” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) or even “Randian” (Atlas Shrugged) about it and assert that only a small kernel of the population truly make things work while the rest simply leech off of the productive efforts of those few übermensch. I also have reason to believe however that this tends to appear to be the condition of human nature because of the weaknesses inherent in the human ability to organize themselves beyond cliques (research, amongst other things, the concept of the “Monkey Sphere”). As companies get larger, the ability to remain organized and remain efficient is reduced. Over history humans have tried various organizational technologies such as bureaucracies, autocracies and democracies, with varying degrees of success. db0, the hostility I detect in your writing towards managers may be the result of the inherent inefficiencies in scaling up human effort of any kind. In which case you may find yourself disappointed no matter what kind of governance system is in place.

        db0, if you have some good evidence about efficiencies of employee owned companies can you please let me know by e-mail. You can find my contact information my clicking on my name at the top of this post, following the link to my site and choosing the appropriate contact method.

      • John says:

        “the builtin authority structure of Capitalism counters libertarianism.”

        Capitalism seems about as anti-authoritarian as you can get. At least, it is much less so than centrally-planned economic systems.

      • “Unused” property is called savings which the owner is free to invest.

      • db0 says:

        Unused property is still unused, which makes scarcity worse and allows for more exploitation

      • Define, “exploitation”.

      • db0 says:

        Someone getting less back than what they produced. Ie a worker getting back only part of the wealth created by his labour as wage, while the non-working capitalist keeping the profits.

      • Peter says:

        You misapprehend the source of profits.

      • db0 says:

        No I don’t.

      • Peter says:

        Yes, you do. You’re making three unfounded claims: (1) that “non-working capitalists” (i.e., the provision of resources) contribute nothing to the completion of a project; and (2) that time preference doesn’t exist, and (3) that there is no uncertainty of the future. Only if those three were true could your claim of exploitation be upheld. But none of those are true. Profits, from an economic (as opposed to finance) point of view, come entirely out of uncertainty of the future. The natural return to capital is not profit in the economic sense; it’s interest — which arises from time preference. Your “non-working capitalists” get income (what you’re mistakenly calling “profit”) from three sources: return on their input into the productive process (which is not nonexistent as you claim), interest, and economic profit. “Labour” can get the entire value of its input at the same time; there’s no “exploitation” here — the interest rate applies to the time taken during production, between “labour” getting paid and the product being sold, which provides the interest income to capital.

      • db0 says:

        1) Exactly. The provision of resources (or lease of resources one does not use) is not productive labour. Just exploitation of one’s position in society to get money without working.
        2) You do not understand time preference. Here’s my refutation. Here’s a second refutation

        3)I make no such claim.

        My claim that workers are being exploited is based on the Labour theory of value, (which, before you say it, is not debunked). As such I do not know where you got the idea that I said that the “productive process” is nonexistent as I actually assert that it’s the productive process that creates value in society and not simple exchange of commodities as the Austrians think.

      • Peter says:

        Exactly. The provision of resources (or lease of resources one does not use) is not productive labour.

        You mean: of resources that one could be using in a different way…the owner could use them in some other way; in Socialist Hell, he would simply use those resources in another, less productive, way, in order to avoid having them stolen (since that’s what allowing anyone else to use them would entail…he doesn’t have to give up ownership if he uses them himself, right?), making everyone worse off (except that he’d be minimally better off than he would if he allowed anyone else to use his resources on a temporary basis or for a fee).

      • Peter says:

        3) I make no such claim.

        Sure you do. If there’s uncertainty of the future, some people will prefer to work for others for guaranteed wages as opposed to taking the risk that their work will be worth less (or worthless) in the future, when it’s complete.

      • db0 says:

        You mean: of resources that one could be using in a different way…the owner could use them in some other way;

        If he can use it himself, fine. But there’s only so much one person can use by himself.

      • db0 says:

        Sure you do. If there’s uncertainty of the future, some people will prefer to work for others for guaranteed wages as opposed to taking the risk that their work will be worth less (or worthless) in the future, when it’s complete.

        No, no they wouldn’t. Not if they didn’t face the fear of starvation.

        Case in point, the situation during the colonization of the US, where people would prefer the greater risk of moving off to settle a land (which meant they would become their own boss) rather than become wage-slaves.
        The problem was so severe, that the State had to intervene to make settling less desirable. (and of course normal slavery helped when there weren’t enough workers in the first place)

      • @nicole tedesco

        Define, “exploitation”.

        @db0

        Someone getting less back than what they produced. Ie a worker getting back only part of the wealth created by his labour as wage, while the non-working capitalist keeping the profits.

        So, who is the arbiter of the difference between “fair” and “exploitative”?

      • db0 says:

        There’s no need for an arbiter, this is objectively defined. Does the worker keep the full product of his labour (or an equal share with all other workers)? Yes? Then it’s fair.

      • db0 says:

        So Chattel Slavery would be fine if people “voluntarily” became slaves? You’ll be glad to know then that this was indeed the case in many societies, with people selling themselves into it.

        But again you ignore that the wage-slaves have to be coerced as well into accepting a job which gives them less than they produce and a boss that takes away their liberty for a good part of their waking life.

        As for eficiency. This is a nice example of your morality actually. It’s moral because it’s efficient? Is that it?

      • No, I said that chattel slavery was inefficient. Does economic inefficiency make for immorality? Only if the inefficiency violated rights to self preservation, freedom to own and trade property, freedom of association and thought (freedom from coercion) and freedom from theft. Inefficiency may also be unethical and illegal from a litigation perspective. Otherwise unintended inefficiency is just…inefficient.

        Chattel slavery is immoral because it violates fundamental rights. Chattel slavery also happens to be economically inefficient, which added to the evil it already is.

        Please read what I have written before pressing the “Reply” link and, like I have said previously, keep your indulgence in righteous indignation in check (like every good skeptic ought to do).

      • db0 says:

        Chattel slavery is immoral because it violates fundamental rights.

        Which rights does it violate that wage-slavery doesn’t?

      • I am having an honestly difficult time understanding “wage slavery.” What are the conditions that constitute wage slavery? How does it come about? What are the results? What have been the effective ways of mitigating those conditions or removing them once they appear?

      • Brian Macker says:

        “which is why I am opposed to the capitalist system under which the vast majority do NOT in fact retain the full result of their labour but rather only part of it, the rest of which goes to their employer.”

        LOL, so you ascribe to the Marxist economic theory.

        I suggest you read Thomas Sowell’s book “Marxism” in which he destroys this argument. It’s quite silly really. This particular theory rest on the fallacious confusion of thinking that labor and capitalists are separate groups. Therefore the captital goods, the machines, are assumed to be the products of labor (meaning different people than the captitalists) not the capitalists themselves. It never dawns on the proponents of this theory that a) Laborers can save and become capitalists. b) That capital (machinery) contributes substantially to the produced goods.

        The capitalists saved some of the product of his own labor to convert to capital goods (or as capital goods) so that more goods can be produced productively. If the capitalist owns the loom then why shouldn’t he get the product of his own savings. If he worked the loom himself he would get that increase directly. Since, the laborer sans loom produces only 1/100th to amount of cloth surely you aren’t suggesting it is purely his labor that creates the increased production.

        If I fish and save extra fish which I dry (capital good) which I convert to another capital good by eating as I build a loom then why aren’t I deserving of the product of that loom? If you then volunteer to work the loom in exchange for 1/10 it’s production (which is ten time more than you get otherwise) then why shouldn’t I get the benefit of the other 9/10ths of the product? I benefited you by increasing your standard of living.

      • db0 says:

        t never dawns on the proponents of this theory that a) Laborers can save and become capitalists. b) That capital (machinery) contributes substantially to the produced goods.

        A) actually it does. And we actually point out that in fact Labourers can’t save and become capitalists. There’s simply not enough room at the top. So we ask WHY. And the reason is that saving is not an option when the the price of your labour (wage) is driven down to its cost (subsistence).

        b) No it doesn’t. Capital without labourers doesn’t do anything. The theory of marginal productivity is bunk.

        The capitalists saved some of the product of his own labor to convert to capital goods (or as capital goods) so that more goods can be produced productively

        You have a very weird concept of history. This is not how capitalist have accumulated. Rather, they did so through government intervention.

        If I fish and save extra fish which I dry (capital good)

        No, that’s not a capital good. Dried fish do not produce anything. That’s a commodity.

        If you then volunteer to work the loom in exchange for 1/10 it’s production (which is ten time more than you get otherwise) then why shouldn’t I get the benefit of the other 9/10ths of the product? I benefited you by increasing your standard of living.

        One has to ask why didn’t I do the same. Or why would I accept to work on your loom for only 1/10 of its costs instead of buying it from you (since you don’t want to use it yourself obviously) and keep the whole product.

        Your answer will be an undoubtedly shallow “you’re lazy” but this is just avoiding the issue for a unrealistic take on reality and history.

      • Peter says:

        Why would you buy it, even if you could afford to (which you can’t—that’s the whole point: Nicole saved up to make the loom; you didn’t, so neither made your own nor can afford to buy anyone else’s…nothing to do with being “lazy”). You’re a communist. Since Nicole doesn’t want to use (“obviously”, you say), can’t you just take it for yourself without paying?

      • Peter says:

        (Oh, sorry, that was Brian, not Nicole)

      • db0 says:

        Either we discuss about your fantasy world, or we discuss about communism. Don’t assume that you know how we act.

        No, we don’t just take stuff. In this case, if Brian didn’t offer the loom for rent or wage labour, I wouldn’t have a reason to “take it”.

        Nicole saved up to make the loom; you didn’t

        Why? Why didn’t I save since that’s so worthwhile? Am I lazy or am I greedy?

      • Peter says:

        I don’t know why you do what you do…it’s no business of mine. Probably because you’re a communist, and plan on getting stuff “because you need it” from the people who do save.

      • db0 says:

        Really, is that the best you can do? Imply that I’m lazy and/or greedy and not opposed to theft?

      • Anthony O'Neal says:

        The word “libertarian” was actually first derived as a way to describe libertarian socialists. The anarcho-capitalists picked up on it around the 50′s and used it to describe themselves. There have only been two philosophies crazy enough to believe that, in the absence (or minimalization) of government, humans naturally organize around their philosophy, and that would be the communists and the anarcho-capitalist libertarians.

      • db0 says:

        THe only difference is that there is empirical evidence that humans naturally organize themselves in communistic or egalitarian societies barring interference of the state to enforce private property rights.

      • Sark says:

        There is? Give an example of an advanced society that naturally organized itself in a communistic or egalitarian fashion. The reason I exclude hunter-gatherer and similar primitive societies is because none of us wants to live in that type of society, no matter how egalitarian they are. So using them as an example of a group we should emulate would be dumb.

      • db0 says:

        The technological level is not an argument against the natural form of societal structures of humans.

        Examples of communal living were abundant even 300 years ago in the form of the farms of Europe.

        And of course you won’t see any examples now because it was necessary to stifle all such communes to allow Capitalism to grow (as it required abundant wage-slaves).

        Even so, I can still give you an example of an advanced society that organized itself in egalitarian form. Just check the Spanish revolution.

      • People ought to be free to attempt to organize themselves into such enclaves should they freely choose and avoid such enclaves should they choose. People ought to be free of artificial boundaries to success such as the threat of theft, of bodily harm, or of coercion by any means. People ought not to be guaranteed of success in their efforts however.

      • db0 says:

        Perhaps not. But people ought to be guaranteed the basic necessities of life at the least. Food, Shelter, Healthcare and they ought to not have to lose their liberty (ie wage-slavery) in order to achieve those.

      • Sark says:

        “The technological level is not an argument against the natural form of societal structures of humans.”
        Maybe it’s ‘natural’ in that its what we evolved over millions of years to do, but that does not mean it is the most beneficial. Indeed, humans have always found that once they move beyond hunting and gathering the egalitarian model doesn’t work.
        “And of course you won’t see any examples now because it was necessary to stifle all such communes to allow Capitalism to grow (as it required abundant wage-slaves).”
        Or, to spin it a different way, people found that they didn’t prefer life on the commune by and large.

        “Even so, I can still give you an example of an advanced society that organized itself in egalitarian form. Just check the Spanish revolution.”
        Yeah, because that worked out so well. Lets all emulate the Spanish revolution.

      • @db0

        …people ought to be guaranteed the basic necessities of life at the least. Food, Shelter, Healthcare and they ought to not have to lose their liberty (ie wage-slavery) in order to achieve those.

        Should basic “food, shelter, healthcare” be a right or a benefit of a wealthy, functioning society? If you say such basics ought to be fundamental, legal and ethical rights, then what is your chain of moral decision making that supports such a rights? Are all rights the same? Would the right to self-preservation hold the same legal weight as the right to “the pursuit of happiness?”

      • db0 says:

        Indeed, humans have always found that once they move beyond hunting and gathering the egalitarian model doesn’t work.

        No, they didn’t “find” anything. It was imposed on them. In a sense, the scrapping of egalitarianism once private property came around (due to the capability to accumulate more than one possessed) was an evolutionary path that we couldn’t avoid. People didn’t like it, but they didn’t have a choice (societies which didn’t do it, were overrun).

        The Egalitarian mindframe however is builtin into our evolved psychology, which is why another egalitarian society can work, once we abolish private property.

        Or, to spin it a different way, people found that they didn’t prefer life on the commune by and large.

        Not only are you ahistorical, but immensely wrong. People would spill blood to stay in their egalitarian communes, rather than go work in a factory. This is why they had to be forced out. The term wage-slavery was not at all controversial for the original proletarians for a reason. They recognised wage-slavery for what it was.bq

        Yeah, because that worked out so well. Lets all emulate the Spanish revolution.

        What a stunningly superficial take on history…

      • @db0

        The only difference is that there is empirical evidence that humans naturally organize themselves in communistic or egalitarian societies barring interference of the state to enforce private property rights.

        I would guess that this “natural” egalitarianism arises when the human organizations are initially small but begin to disappear as the population grows. Cliques beget extended families, which beget tribes, which beget proto-governments and so on. Before you know it, life is once again Hobbesian in its warlike nature, or “nasty, brutish and short.”

      • db0 says:

        NOt exactly. While there were tribes and the like, they were not in the hierarchical form we are familiar with.

        In fact, tribes and familial structures turned into classes once the accumulation of property was possible. Once people could produce more than they consumed and split into haves, and have-nots, then there was a reason to have slaves or non-citizens who do the work but get only their subsistence.

        That required a government to protect the few from the many.

      • db0 says:

        If you say such basics ought to be fundamental, legal and ethical rights, then what is your chain of moral decision making that supports such a rights?

        Here you go

    • Anthony O'Neal says:

      Libertarian socialists? I am pretty certain that libertarian socialists are like anarcho-socialists – they believe that in the absence of government everyone will just hold hands, share, and work willingly.

  2. TLP says:

    Go Mike! The problem with the fact that most humanists lean to the left is that they’ll embrace the whole ideological package of the left, including Al Gore’s fear-mongering.

    Penn & Teller did a great show on this.

    Group-think is bad.

    • db0 says:

      Generalizations are bad as well.

      As for embracing “the ideological package”, I would be surprised that a skeptic would claim that science (ie proof of global warming) is group-think. Is the right-libertarian’s non-group-think the reason why most of them are global-warming denialists?

      • TLP says:

        I’m pretty sure republicans deny AGW theory for the same reasons they deny evolution.

        This is not why Penn & Teller and other libertarians have a problem with the hype surrounding the environmental movement.

      • db0 says:

        Why is it a “hype” surrounding the environmental movement? All scientific facts have shown that the situation is critical and all re-assesments done, show that it is getting worse. As such I think there’s a pretty good reason for “hype”!

      • Jeremy says:

        It’s “hype” because people will do anything they think will clear their conscious, even if it offers nothing to help the environment. Often, the solutions are to another (supposed) problem. For instance, there are those who say they are going organic to help the environment, but in reality, organic foods need to take more land. If that land used to be forest land, then organic food should be worse for the environment.

        Another example was an article on CNN about when Hillary Clinton wanted to stop people from traveling to Antartica. She wanted to do this because human visits changes the ecosystem. However, the rest of the article was on the ozone hole. Global warming was not the reason she wanted to stop the visits (I hope), but still it becomes the rallying cry for everything.

      • Rob says:

        Replacing trees with plants isn’t as big a problem as replacing trees with cows and other livestock, which contributes methane, pollutes groundwater and does not process Co2 into oxygen like more plants would. Not to mention being cruel for the animals. In addition it takes 10 pounds of vegetable protein to make 1 pound of meat protein, so you can see the overall wastefulness and selfishness in the typical 1st world diet. I don’t see how Organic would be better for global warming, but certainly it would seem to be better for the planet in general, but vegan is the best diet for the planet, people, and animals included.

      • The problem, as the author David Brin has stated many times, is the human emotion of righteous indignation. Emotions are primitive shortcuts that bypass the human executive functions. Indulgence in emotion can leave the human exposed to “group think” feedback behaviors which can rage out of control (we know of the historical examples). Someone indulging (and it is an indulgence) in righteous indignation may have been set on to their path by a proven truth, but the continued indulgence can easily take them astray.

        The point, db0, is to be cautious of righteous indignation, be it Al Gore’s, your own or mine.

      • Mover says:

        db0,

        “Is the right-libertarian’s non-group-think the reason why most of them are global-warming denialists?”

        I’m not so sure that most of them are global-warming denialists, or that anyone is denying climate change.

        The argument is “is human activity causing it?

        And for me, the question is “CO2, does it make a difference at .04% of the atmosphere?”

        If human activity is not causing it, then you’ve made thousands of entrepreneurs rich for no good reason. Just look at the Green Messiah, Algore. When he left office in 2001, he was worth about $2M. Now he’s worth $100M.

      • db0 says:

        And if human activity is causing it, then you’ve saved the planet. If HA is not causing it, then at least you’ve took one step away from oil dependency (and all the bad stuff that goes with it). If OTOH, human activity causes it and we don’t take action, then it’s the ultimate loss. If human activity is not causing it and you don’t take action, then it’s business as usual, which does not say much since the state will simply give money to others lobbies anyway.

      • MadScientist says:

        [OT] I object to the “saving the planet” – that seems to be a common delusion for many. Strictly speaking the planet will still be there when all life is extinguished. Now too much warming from carbon dioxide will not extinguish life on the planet; there may be huge problems for humans, but we’ll be nowhere near killing off all life on the planet. Don’t imagine you’re saving the planet or even saving species; you’re not.

      • What I don’t approve of is indulgence in righteous indignation and in mass hysteria since it will probably lead us to mistakes, perhaps severe mistakes.

      • Mover says:

        If HA is not causing it, then at least you’ve took one step away from oil dependency (and all the bad stuff that goes with it)

        If HA is not a problem, why would you want to add the extra burden on the working poor of massive new expenses, not to mention their vilification from the green weenies.

        The chicken littles aside, I see no problems with petroleum use. Well, except for the part where the state is forcing ethanol into the blend. My mileage went from 21 mpg highway to 17 mpg highway. Now that is efficiency! (if their goal is to make everyone a ward of the state)

        Besides, the only real problem I see with climate change is the “wealthy” will lose their ocean front property in about 100 years if Algore is right. On the bright side, when their high dollar high risk property goes away, the rest of us won’t have to make up for their insurance premiums by paying extra in ours. And, the polar bears will be just fine. The video you see with the 2 bears on a small chunk of ice is stock footage from decades ago during a Spring thaw. It’s the same thing bears have been going through since Darwin invented them.

        If OTOH, human activity causes it and we don’t take action, then it’s the ultimate loss.

        Ultimate loss? I don’t think so. I have to agree with MadScientist on this one.

        which does not say much since the state will simply give money to others lobbies anyway.

        I suggest firing your representative (I use the term loosely) if they are representing lobbyists and Big Money instead of you.

      • Personally, I don’t mind many of the “green” efforts because:

        • …they force us to deal with fundamental engineering problems that we technologists have really not dealt with well at all up to this point: the optimization of energy production and consumption. There is a great deal of room between the efficiency of current power production and the Einsteinian energy locked up in all matter (E=mc²). If the rate of innovation is truly to increase exponentially, we must deal with energy efficiency for many reasons that have nothing to do with global warming.

        • …they help prepare our society, IMHO, for expansion over/under the seas and especially into space. I agree with Stephen Hawking: we have too many eggs hosted by this one basket we call Earth.

  3. Chris says:

    “Humanists, for example, are supposed to be in favor of all humans, but when virtually our entire constituency votes Democratic, that means we are missing half the human population! ”

    No, it means that the more liberal party of the US political system is more aligned with humanist thinking. If there was a humanist party, and 100% of humanists voted for it, would you be troubled? The Republican party of the United States is currently, on the whole, anti-humanist in nature. How can you be surprised that few humanists vote for it?

    ” government should not be in the business of Providing Rights: providing goods and services that require the infringement of our freedoms (e.g., taking my property through taxes to pay for someone else’s education, health care, vacations, paternity leaves, etc.).”

    So the right to life (which could be regarded, with little extrapolation, as health care) should only be available to those who can afford it? And I hesitate to call hypocrisy, but to quote you from above:

    “[...] there are at least a dozen essentials to freedom:
    [...]
    7. Mass education.
    [...]”

    Your ideal 100% privatised education system is simply incompatible with your freedom essential of “Mass education”. And “private choice and charity” will never be sufficient to accommodate those in low socio-economic brackets.

    Your constant cries of “I find it deeply morally repugnant that bureaucratic agencies have the legal right to confiscate my wealth through force or the threat of force” seem like nothing more than the whining faux-victimism of the tea-baggers. I believe you’re looking at your income in completely the wrong way – you earn $X per year. Your pay cheque may say you earn $X+Y, but Y is simply the obligation of your wealth creation that keeps society running. As soon as you stop fooling yourself to think you’re actually earning $X+Y, you’ll be a hell of a lot less outraged by taxation.

    I used to have similar opinions to yours, Shermer, I have even voted for the libertarian party in my country on more than one occasion. But upon closer inspection of actual human society and having struggled through university, surviving only thanks to the allowances of a socialised economy, I’ve come to realise that as utopian as Libertarianism seems, it is wildly and completely incompatible with modern human society.

    • TLP says:

      And “private choice and charity” will never be sufficient to accommodate those in low socio-economic brackets.

      Ah, the famous objection “but your solution won’t solve EVERYTHING!”.

      It doesn’t need to solve everything, just to do somethings better, and do everything more moral than the current coercive system.

      • Chris says:

        “It doesn’t need to solve everything, just to do somethings better, and do everything more moral than the current coercive system.”

        I disagree that libertarianism would do everything more morally. And sure, it’d do some things better, in some people’s opinions, but it’d also do a lot of things worse. The fire service is a public concern for a reason: a privatised fire service didn’t work, and neither do many other privatised services that are best served in the public’s interest by the public’s representatives.

    • TLP says:

      Your ideal 100% privatised education system is simply incompatible with your freedom essential of “Mass education”.

      In a libertarian system people won’t have the luxury of being willingly ignorant.

      The bible belt would revert several decades, technologically speaking, if they continued on disrespecting science and research. Amish paradise!

      • Chris says:

        “In a libertarian system people won’t have the luxury of being willingly ignorant.”

        …as long as they can afford education. And obviously, since everyone in a Libertarian system is presumably upper-middle class at worst, they’ll all be able to afford aforementioned education.

        Libertarianism would be fantastic and work perfectly if it weren’t for those pesky poor people and those with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

      • Brian M says:

        You are awesome. High-five for reality!

        Some times I just want to say to a libertarian:
        Take your money, trust it to someone you love, etc. Then go live on the streets. That person that you left in trust cannot let you back into your house. If you get sick, well, you cannot afford the health care. If you are cold, you cannot afford the property to get warm. Try working your way up from McDonalds without a high school diploma, with 2 kids to feed. See how much property you even have to care about your rights over it.

      • Sitakali says:

        Brian M: I think everyone who has a problem with taxes for social services should do that! Then, if they still are anti-tax, I’ll give each of them $100. I don’t imagine I’ll be losing a cent.

      • Peter says:

        And obviously, since everyone in a Libertarian system is presumably upper-middle class at worst

        That’s an extremely ignorant assumption.

      • Chris says:

        Sorry, that remark was intended as sarcasm, not as a presumption of the general socio-economic status of people in a libertarian system. Obviously most people couldn’t afford private education, and therefore, TLP’s original comment of “In a libertarian system people won’t have the luxury of being willingly ignorant.” is simply fantasy.

      • Peter says:

        Obviously most people couldn’t afford private education

        What makes you think so?

        I could rephrase your position: “obviously, most people can’t afford private food, therefore food production must be monopolized by the state, or everyone would starve.” But look around…where-ever food production is monopolized by the state, that is where people are starving!

      • Chris says:

        “I could rephrase your position: “obviously, most people can’t afford private food, therefore food production must be monopolized by the state, or everyone would starve.”

        But that’s patently false. Most people can and DO afford private food.

        Private education is expensive. Food is not. Trying to make the two equivalents is dishonest. Just to illustrate my point. How would a household with two children in the bottom 20% ( ~US$20,000 a year, without any major taxation, in a libertarian system), afford private education for two children? They could afford food, and obviously do, when the food is bought, the rent is paid, the water, electricity, roading charges (in a libertarian society), health charges/insurance (again, in the US or a libertarian society), and everything else is paid up, what will be left over for the education fund? $5,000? $1,000? A few hundred? What kind of education would that garner?

        And I won’t except “the kindness of strangers” explanation, because I highly doubt there’d be enough donated money sloshing around to fund the education of the bottom 20% – generating an uneducated lower class which the educated upper class would no doubt be free to exploit. As a skeptic, I’m fully willing to be proven wrong, so go on and do so.

      • Peter says:

        But that’s patently false. Most people can and DO afford private food.

        Which was my point!

        Private education is expensive.

        In the current system. So is food, when government takes over food production. Get government out of it, and it’ll be cheap.

      • Chris says:

        “Which was my point!”

        And it’s a poor point. Most people can afford private food, most people cannot afford private education. And you’ve completely failed to explain how my hypothetical, realistic scenario would allow a family to afford private education.

        “In the current system. So is food, when government takes over food production. Get government out of it, and it’ll be cheap.”

        You have an example of this? Just making a proclamation is insufficient. And getting the government out=cheaper is plainly false too. All countries that have socialised healthcare spend less on healthcare than countries that don’t. But if your hypothesis that the government makes things expensive is accurate, shouldn’t the exact opposite be true?

      • Peter says:

        All countries that have socialised healthcare spend less on healthcare than countries that don’t.

        By “countries that don’t”, you mean the US? Government involvement in health-care in the US is enormous.

        You want examples, the only option is go back and look at what it was like before government involvement. Education was cheaper and better. Doctors made house calls, and accepted payment in chickens from people who didn’t have the money. Etc., etc.

      • Chris says:

        By “countries that don’t”, you mean the US? Government involvement in health-care in the US is enormous.

        Yet it’s the least socialised. And the country spends more per capita on healthcare than any other OECD country.

        You want examples, the only option is go back and look at what it was like before government involvement. Education was cheaper and better.

        By what metric? Just saying it was better and cheaper means nothing. Give me numbers (inflation adjusted).

        Doctors made house calls, and accepted payment in chickens from people who didn’t have the money. Etc., etc.

        Wow, that sounds fantastic! Tell me, how many chickens and goats would I have to pony up for life saving surgery? How many chickens do people in the bottom 20% of America’s economy own? How oversimplified and naïve is your view of reality?

      • Peter says:

        Yet it’s the least socialised.

        But the most regulated. It’s regulation per se that matters, not whether the particular kind of regulation gets called “socialist” or not.

      • Becca Stareyes says:

        In a libertarian system people won’t have the luxury of being willingly ignorant.

        That’s not the problem I have. The problem is that people who are ignorant because they or their families cannot afford education. I was friends with a number of students who were only able to attend college — a state school, which was partially subsidized by taxpayers — by going massively into debt and working as hard as they could. One of these friends had to drop out after health reasons meant she had to take an incomplete that semester and dropped out of her job. Others were able to breeze through on the stock options or university credits they got from their parents.

        What assurances do I have that libertarianism would not just allow the rich to become even more of a hereditary upper class, while the poor stay ignorant and in menial, low-paying jobs, with rare exceptions paraded about to convince people that it really is a meritocracy? For a democracy to work, I believe that every voter should be educated as much as possible within freedom of speech. Otherwise, the system breaks, since these people are supposed to be choosing how to best run the country.

        I think asking ‘how is this problem best handled — federal, state, local or private’ is a good question, but it’s not a valid one unless one considers that one needs to ask it for people for a variety of backgrounds.

        (I’m also not sure if I agree with the statement itself. Consider someone like Jenny McCarthy. She made a respectable amount of money based on the fact that she is attractive and willing to pose naked. She is currently using it to advance a cause that most scientists believe is bogus after studies were done, and contributes to a public health nightmare. Ms. McCarthy has well enough money to afford a college education in biology, let alone enough to get some books, and yet she maintains her ignorance. And she probably also can afford medical care if her son gets sick from measles.)

      • Mike Krpan says:

        I am hoping that, probably by now, McCarthy is aware of the revolt against her pompous ignorance. I don’t know much about her (and prefer not too LOL), but if she is “educated”, her behavior really speaks for what has been traditionally attributed to “the ignorant populist”. A gal like her goes to college to cheer-lead and to frither among eligible alpha-males. Unfortunately, becoming truly educated is not a priority among the masses attending colleges.

    • @Chris,

      So the right to life (which could be regarded, with little extrapolation, as health care) should only be available to those who can afford it?

      The “right to life”, in the libertarian sense, is seen as a preventive right—that is, the right not to have your life taken from you. The right to life is not “health care” which is seen as a provided right by the libertarian. It is moral for me to coerce you into providing me with the opportunity to afford extremely expensive health care in the last days of my life in order that I enjoy one more day on this planet? If so, that would be something provided to me as a benefit if you accept the fact that death is inevitable and that, ultimately, death cannot be prevented in the long run.

      It is understood that one’s personal life is affected by “public health” issues such as spread of disease, quality of sanitation and so on. It is understood that, in a democracy, a majority of my fellow citizens may vote for the support of “public health” initiatives through taxation. At that point however a trade-off is induced: does the majority force the will of a minority of people who abhor taxation from a morale perspective in order to help preserve their right to life of the themselves? A similar trade-off exists for the establishment of public fire fighting systems. A democracy is a somewhat successful modus vivendi that happens to function somewhat effectively at large scales. The nature of democracy is to help arbitrate compromise in moral values between citizens and allow executive decision making to actually take place. Western countries have been fairly successful at combining capitalism with democratic government because it is somewhat effective at helping to arbitrate these moral decisions.

      I know that the Objectivist, though I am not completely certain about the Libertarian, attempts to separate government from economics in the same way that we in the United States attempt to “separate church from state”. In a democracy however, this separation is not always possible since one function of democracy is to help arbitrate moral decision making. Keep in mind however that the results of democratic decision making does not change the morality of individuals. For the Libertarian who feels that certain economic decisions are moral and fights for the recognition of that morality, but who also supports the imposition of a democratic government to run the overarching affairs of the society they live in, also has to support the idea that their morality may be compromised from time to time. What the Libertarian hopes for however is that, given the passing of a contemporary crisis or change in public sentiment, their moral decision making can positively influence public policy once again. The Libertarian, I believe, works hard to help maintain a government that can indeed change again in the way they wish. That same Libertarian, I believe, also works hard to avoid the development of “ratchet” governments that, once statism has been established, can never be reversed due to the nature of human power dynamics.

      • Chris says:

        It is moral for me to coerce you into providing me with the opportunity to afford extremely expensive health care in the last days of my life in order that I enjoy one more day on this planet?

        As someone who’s required expensive healthcare to live since a very young age, yes. I have no problem what-so-ever “coercing” people who can afford it to give what amounts to nothing in order to keep me and others alive. This in turn allows us to live full, productive, wealth-generating lives which benefits others who require similar help. If you too require extremely expensive healthcare, not at the end of your life, but during your regular life which you would have no hope of affording or insuring against, then I hope it gives you the same perspective I have on healthcare as a preventive right-to-life issue.

        The rest of your post requires no reply as I see it as a subjective philosophical statement.

      • I mentioned the expense of the “last days” because that (if my memory serves me correct) is where a very significant of health care costs are incurred in most cases.

        Assuming you are an appropriately productive citizen, it would indeed be of rational self interest to me to help support your quality of life through expensive health care. Personally, I have no problem with that. What we all have to come to define however is when to stop in terms of the communal support of health care. At what point does it become exploitation on the part of the patient? If there is no such point defined, then the last days of all of our lives could wrench us all broke and in the end we all get nothing.

      • Because of the productivity argument, I agree to grant you the benefit of publicly funded health care. The only right you have is to self preservation and to the enjoyment of your life to the best of your abilities. From the perspective of government and law, rights and benefits are two separate things. Rights are absolute. Benefits can come and go by contract of mutual consent.

      • Peter says:

        Keep in mind however that the results of democratic decision making does not change the morality of individuals.

        Oh, I think it does. Aristotle listed democracy as one the three evil forms of government. It was regarded as such until quite recently (e.g., the Founding Fathers knew democracy to be evil). But nowadays it’s generally regarded as not only a positive good, but the only possible good form of government. Democracy itself has perverted the morality of the majority people.

      • I have heard that argument made before with some degree of clarity and honesty, but I am still unconvinced. What is your argument for that? What evidence are you using to support your hypothesis?

        I am asking for informational purposes because I really want to know more.

  4. intepid says:

    Unless you were educated under a bush, and commuted to work on a bike you made yourself out of bamboo and coconut shells, I think your outlook is totally lacking in appreciation for the way you and everyone you care about have benefited from a society and infrastructure that was largely paid for by “stealing” the wealth of previous generations (and which wealth would otherwise now be concentrated in the hands of offspring who were lucky enough to be born into it I suppose).

    It is incredibly unrealistic to argue that we don’t need to pay taxes toward the public good (because we would give money willingly). I don’t want to dick around deciding who is worthy of my support, and I sure as hell hate the idea of *anyone* dying of neglect because no one deemed them worthy of attention. A lot of people are rather selfish and would rather not give anything at all. A lot of people are racist and would refuse to allow money to assist minorities they despise. And if raising funds for public works were become a popularity/PR exercise they risk becoming disconnected from actual needs and benefits.

    I feel sorry for liberals and conservatives alike when people tell them to “love it or leave it”, because everyone has a right to want to change things… but when it comes to libertarians I think it is more fitting; since it really sounds like you resent having any obligations placed on you as a citizen, surely you would be happier living on an island somewhere with like-minded friends.

    You basically say, “I’m happy to give, I just don’t want to be forced to give”, but you should really remember: You came into this world with *nothing* at all… and look what you have now. Is it so much to ask a little in return?

    • Chris says:

      Or in short, Libertarianism is about 100% personal responsibility and 0% social responsibility.

      • db0 says:

        Which would probably mean the society would implode as predicted by game theory.

      • TLP says:

        The society where people are selfish robots would implode. The society where people are socially responsible in a voluntary manner would flourish.

        All the people from the failed society would embrace the principles of the prosper societies.

        Evolution WIN!

      • intepid says:

        Actually the people from the failed society would more likely try to conquer the successful one, because by definition they are selfish jerks. Hopefully the successful society would have forseen this and defended themselves in advance, although this would have required a significant public investment, which I’m sure would have been amply supplied by simply passing a hat around.

        Then after the brief war the fund-raising hat would continue to be passed around for the ongoing medical expenses for those injured in the fight. How long before people stop putting money in the hat? How long before they withhold money on the basis of who is being treated and in what order? How long before people start resenting their neighbors for putting in less than themselves?

      • db0 says:

        A society where people were not selfish robots but actually socially responsible and stateless, would be an Anarchist society, not (right) Libertopia.

        As such I agree, but it won’t happen through evolution but through revolution. People won’t accept first going to the extreme right before they decide that left was better in the first place.

      • Peter says:

        db0: true anarchism is necessarily “capitalist” anarchism. Capitalism is just another word for freedom…you can only squash it (“socialism”) at gunpoint; that’s been tried and failed again and again. Learn!

      • Peter says:

        And, BTW, there’s nothing “right” (as in right-vs-left; I don’t think you mean “right” as in right-vs-wrong) about libertarianism.

      • Sitakali says:

        Peter: “True anarchism is necessarily ‘capitalist’ anarchism.”
        lol! If by anarchism, you mean no masters, then it most definitely is not capitalist. The common fallacy that Libertardians make is that when you get rid of state governments, you get rid of authority.

        But what has more authority than the hideously bloated corporations that control state governments in the first place? Not only are those businesses out for only their own interests, but they aren’t even elected; there is no democracy involved, and therefore no freedom.

        And if you want to claim that consumer action is equivalent to democracy, I suggest you are the one who needs to “LEARN!”

      • Sitakali says:

        Game theory has been shown time and again to have serious flaws. Game theory assumes everyone lives in the same moral vacuum.

        I am NOT defending Libertarianism, btw.

      • db0 says:

        Game theory is about showing that individual rational choices can have collective irrational results. It is a simplification sure, but it’s useful and it does have its uses.

      • fracai says:

        Only in the odd society you’ve presented where:
        1) Everyone is a Libertarian
        2) Everyone is a selfish jerk

        I would describe Libertarianism as being about 100% personal responsibility and the FREEDOM, but not the requirement, to be 0% socially responsible. If you want to hoard your earnings for the sole betterment of your own self, that’s fine.
        Do you really think this would happen?
        Would all the current donors “realize” there was no point in giving and shun their society?

        This sounds an awful lot like the theist’s argument that you “can’t be good without god”. And to be honest, if you ARE the kind of person wherein if the government didn’t force you into charity, WOULD shun society; then I think society is better for it.

      • db0 says:

        If you’re going to actually think of how people people would act, then unfortunately you would have to see that those who are likely to be more socially responsible are unlikely to support a reform toward right-”libertarianism”.

        Those who want to be “good without the state”, support socialistic societies and thus would be opposed to the concepts libertarianism is based on.

        To even achieve Libertopia thus, you truly do need a vast majority of people who are either Libertarians or selfish jerks. Either that, or the force of the (private) state.

      • fracai says:

        Those who want to be “good without the state”, support socialistic societies

        ?
        In what way is “without the state” supported by socialism?

      • intepid says:

        A lot of people see 1 and 2 as the same thing, and it’s not surprising since the only people who ever support libertarianism are those who are already “ahead”… ie those who are richer/better educated than the average schmoe, and most likely don’t have any chronic health problems…

        When a libertarian says: “Everyone should live free and not have their income pilfered by government”, non-libertarians (grown ups) hear: “wahhh wahhh I pay a slightly higher tax rate because I earn more which I totally deserve because I’m a real somebody and I’m sick of carrying everyone else’s sorry asses and I shouldn’t have to put in more than I get out!!!”

      • Donald says:

        Amen!

      • TLP says:

        No, libertarianism is about VOLUNTARY social responsibility.

        The current system is about 0% social responsibility, because you don’t NEED to be socially responsible if the Nanny state does that for you.

      • Chris says:

        “No, libertarianism is about VOLUNTARY social responsibility.”

        Which in my opinion and in the opinion of many others is a simply stupid idea.

        You can’t be voluntarily socially responsible unless you can be voluntarily part of a said society.

      • Peter says:

        And you can’t be voluntarily part of said society in the presence of statist coercion. QED.

      • db0 says:

        And you can’t be voluntarily part of said society in the presence of capitalist-backed state coercion. QED.

        FTFY

        Capitalism is impossible without a state to sustain it.

      • Peter says:

        Nonsense. Capitalism is impossible with a state – true capitalism is necessarily anarchist, and true anarchism necessarily capitalist.

      • db0 says:

        There is no “true capitalism” since capitalism is a system which at its core has the capitalist mode of production. You’re probably talking about laissez-fair capitalism which would in fact not be possible without the state as it requires it to retain property rights.

        You will probably say some nonsense about private defense companies, but this is simply a state by another name. A private state, this time shamelessly protecting Capital only.

        “True Capitalism” doesn’t have a smither of Anarchism in it, since it is based on Authority and rule. Authority of the Landlord over the tenant. Authority of the boss over the worker. Authority of the Rich over the poor.

      • intepid says:

        Part of social responsibility is accepting that what you want is not always what everyone else wants (or needs). In a libertarian paradise every selfish jerk reserves the right to take their ball and go home, and it’s going to be pretty tough to get certain things done under such a system.

        Assuming that libtopia has an elected government of sorts, isn’t it safe to assume that the people who didn’t vote for the winner will generally choose to withhold material/financial support for that person’s policies, thereby rendering government pretty much ineffective and leaving power in the hands of well funded lobbyists?

        And oooo beware the Nanny State! … Look at those socialist countries like Sweden, people must be miserable paying so much tax, and lack any real sense of social responsibility, right?

      • Peter says:

        Sweden is not a socialist country. Fortunately for the Swedes.

      • intepid says:

        Apologies for the hyperbole… from the point of view of people bloviating about big government stealing taxes at gun point, and terrified of America moving too far to the left (you still have plenty of room to move) it may as well be a socialist state.

      • db0 says:

        The problem is that while it’s about voluntary social responsibility, the grind of the Capitalist system (which right-”libertarianism” will retain) will force people to be rationally self-interested. As such, it will suffer from game theory results, in the sense that the cumulative result of individual rational self-interest is an irrational collective interest.

      • Chris, you are wrong. It is not that the Libertarian (or Objectivist) eschews rational moral obligation, it is like I said in a previous response, the Libertarian is fighting to prevent statism “ratcheting” that cannot be undone once contemporary crisis has passed, or public sentiment has changed, or technological innovation has made the original problem moot. The urge to not force my obligation to my fellow citizen is not to escape moral decision making at all, but to ensure that the government we live in can indeed respond to our needs for now and into the future. A fear of the Libertarian is that governments are by definition coercive entities, that those employed to work in government are ultimately charged with the power of coercion and that by nature humans are loathe to give up that kind of power and, by nature, will take unfair advantage of that power because it would indeed be in that employee’s self interest to do so. Another fear of the Libertarian is that any new avenue of coercion granted to a government may never be able to be rolled back once the need for that coercive freedom becomes moot. Another fear of the Libertarian is that any new avenue of granted coercion will be used for reasons other than intended because of the nature of human self-interest. The Libertarian who embraces democracy as a modus vivendi understands that new coercive powers will be granted from time to time, but also understands that it requires constant struggle to ensure those powers are used only as directed and revoked when no longer needed. Yet another fear of the Libertarian is that, as more and more coercive powers are granted to any government, the more difficult it will become to police or reverse any one coercive freedom granted to said government. Call it a “slippery slope” argument if you will, but the Libertarian position is based on fear of government because of their coercive freedoms. This is not the same as saying the Libertarian position is a position of freedom from moral choice; it is, in fact, an ideology which defines the struggle needed for the individual to maintain their ability to indeed engage in moral behavior.

        Once you give someone your gun, it is very difficult to demand that your gun be returned.

      • Chris says:

        A fear of the Libertarian is that governments are by definition coercive entities, that those employed to work in government are ultimately charged with the power of coercion and that by nature humans are loathe to give up that kind of power and, by nature, will take unfair advantage of that power because it would indeed be in that employee’s self interest to do so.

        By “employed to work in government”, I’m assuming you mean work at high levels of power within the government, because outside of that upper, temporary echelon, it’s just regular people doing their jobs. I disagree that people would naturally exploit that power because there is public accountability and a legality to consider too.

        The Libertarian who embraces democracy as a modus vivendi understands that new coercive powers will be granted from time to time, but also understands that it requires constant struggle to ensure those powers are used only as directed and revoked when no longer needed.

        That’s not an exclusive libertarian understanding.

        This is not the same as saying the Libertarian position is a position of freedom from moral choice; it is, in fact, an ideology which defines the struggle needed for the individual to maintain their ability to indeed engage in moral behavior.

        Right, so the struggle of the individual takes precedence over that of the group. I believe a middle ground needs to be reached in which both are equally accounted for. The freedoms of the individual should not trump those of society, or vice versa, as each requires the other to function.

        Once you give someone your gun, it is very difficult to demand that your gun be returned.

        Only if that exchange takes place in a vacuum, where the person given the gun is under no threat of retribution from the group, be it physical, legal or political, should he not return that gun.

    • fracai says:

      Isn’t it already the case that wealth is possessed by those born into it? Oh, I suppose it’s also possessed by those who educated themselves, worked hard, and earned their own living.

      It’s not a lack of appreciation for what social governing HAS produced, just a question of where we would be if free enterprise were the driving force.

      It seems like your argument for social governing is that you’re too lazy to decide who to give to and worried that any individual might be able to choose not to give their charity to a charity they don’t approve of. How do you feel about YOUR charity going to faith based initiatives? As is the case now.

      • db0 says:

        It’s not a lack of appreciation for what social governing HAS produced, just a question of where we would be if free enterprise were the driving force.

        Feudalism. Capitalism only came about through the acts of the state.

      • TLP says:

        Acts of the state were needed at the time as an antidote to previous acts of states.

      • db0 says:

        Actually no. The acts of the state were not aimed at dissolving the state (which would have been a true “antidote”) but rather at strengthening the Capitalist class & by extention the State itself. As such, they were not an “Antidote” in any sense of the word.

        Nor does 2 wrongs make a right.

      • Capitalism only came about through the acts of the state.

        Chris, in this you are correct. Capitalism works when the state upholds the right to self-preservation, when it upholds property rights and freedom of association and choice (freedom from coercion). Libertarians who embrace democracy do not deny that the state is necessary, though it is a necessary evil and ought to be understood as such.

        There does exist the creed of libertarian which does embrace anarchism as the only moral form of government. I don’t know much about the merits of their argument because I have never subscribed to that point of view, hence I have never been motivated to dive into the details of their ideology.

        I believe the “big ‘L’” Libertarian understands and supports the need for democratic government forms and all of the trade-offs that entails.

      • intepid says:

        Faith-based initiatives are unconstitutional, so should be abolished regardless.

        FWIW, I’m perfectly happy to sit in the middle of the private vs public spectrum. Sure we need incentives, we need to feel like we can better our lives and do more, but we also need security, and safety nets. Think of it as an insurance policy, which we can only afford because it is compulsory and everyone pays. Why is it either/or for so many people?

      • Peter says:

        Including the faith that constitutes modern liberalism? I.e., faith in the God of State and Democracy?

      • intepid says:

        The idea that liberals worship the state is as dumb as the canard that atheists have “faith” in the religion of Science and Reason.

      • Peter says:

        You don’t “worship” it, but it certainly is a pure faith, and you treat it in a similar manner as theists with their invisible friend – claiming that it can do things that its constituents (i.e., individuals) are incapable of (or would be unwilling to do…even while claiming it acts on their behalf and under their democratic orders: a logical contradiction), that the existence of its abilities are unquestionable, that logic and rationality aren’t applicable to it, etc.

      • intepid says:

        Stop being such a troll. I have no more “faith” in the state than I do in a bus service— It exists, it is useful although sometimes slow, and rarely goes exactly where you would like it to. Boo-hoo. No doubt public transport would be at the top of the average libtard’s chopping list.

      • intepid says:

        (edit: sorry improper use of “libtard” there, it does not mean what I thought it meant)

      • Sitakali says:

        Oh noes, the “god” of democracy!! Belief in democracy requires powers of observation, not faith. If democracy is too “inefficient” for you (which would at least make you a consistent Libertarian), then I suggest you go find yourself a nice benevolent dictator who will allow you all the freedoms you want. Good luck with that.

  5. gor says:

    I wish i wish i wish people would stop using the word liberal.
    It has too many meanings

  6. MadScientist says:

    Of course there are many alternatives to being libertarian and they merely involve not being a stereotypical conservative or liberal.

    If you look through history, income taxes have grown and grown to support an increasingly fat and inefficient bureaucracy. (However taxes were also higher historically – for example, before the Union was founded.) Unfortunately the political system has been ‘gamed’. For me the question is how to reform the political system to drastically reduce the influence of money. In my opinion this proposed brand of libertarianism will simply not work. Welfare should be privatized and funded by charity? I don’t think so; rather than spend on charity I’ll spend on my private army. How about privately funded armed forces to protect the USA? Gee, if it were privately owned you can bet the first thing protected are the owners. Same for privately owned police (and who regulates them anyway). It’s bad enough that many police already seem to think they’re a private army for politicians and the rich and famous; many seem to forget that they’re mean to serve and protect the public in general.

    We can start to reform the political system by having direct voting rather than voting for the people who will vote for a political party. The electoral college was fine when the horse and buggy was the state of the art in land transportation, but those days are long gone. Other very complex issues to address include fundraising for campaigns. One reason congressmen give the impression of being ‘bought’ (aside from genuinely being corrupt) is that they spend a lot of time talking to the people with money to raise money for their next election campaign.

    What I’d like to see are details of what problems libertarianism purports to address and how it addresses those problems. Without such details, as far as I’m concerned it is as attractive as communism.

    • Peter says:

      Welfare should be privatized and funded by charity? I don’t think so; rather than spend on charity I’ll spend on my private army.

      Well, that’s you…if you believe most people would prefer to spend on their private armies and not help anyone else, you must be even more strongly opposed to democracy than you are to freedom – after all, everyone would just vote for no welfare and fund their private armies instead. So democracy wouldn’t last a year.

  7. Anonymous Coward says:

    Your article is logically incoherent, doesn’t address the faults of libertarianism like you promised and relies on name calling, false dichotomies and it-is-because-I-say-so’s. And yes, I am pretty sick of the L-word, but mostly because of articles like these; I wouldn’t hesitate to read a well thought-out treatise on the subject and its alternatives.

  8. NiroZ says:

    I don’t see a problem with most non theists non spiritualists also being liberal, as they both have similar qualities. Non theists non spiritualists believe that there is no ideological reason to oppress people (well, mostly, I’m sure that there is an exception) of various harmless behaviours. Liberals also believe people of various harmless behaviours also should not be oppressed. So they’re a natural fit for each other.

    • Peter says:

      Are you using liberal in the old sense (meaning: libertarian), or in the modern sense (meaning: weak socialist)? If the latter, you’re not making sense: liberals (modern sense) do believe that various harmless (and even beneficial) behaviors should be opposed – that’s precisely what distinguishes them from libertarians!

  9. Anonymous Coward says:

    And please fix your crappy website. In Safari the page doesn’t load and in IE the voting doesn’t work. (If you’re honest, please add a 1-star vote manually.)

  10. Mal Adapted says:

    Michael, you’re entitled to your opinions, but you’re only undermining your credibility as a skeptic when you argue for them publicly.

    Quoting Richard Feynman in full this time: “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first rule is not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    Political ideologies aren’t amenable to scientific analysis, which means there’s no way to know whether we’re fooling ourselves when we make claims about them. Trying to justify them with logic amounts to tail-chasing.

  11. Stephen Bain says:

    Libertarianism seems to fall down in pretty much the same ways that communism does. They are both based on a totally unsupported assumption that everyone within those societies will support their society.

    Where does this fantasy come from that in a Libertarian society everyone will voluntarily stump up the required cash to run the country? The majority of vocal Libertarians seem to be affluent and can therefore afford to pay for their own healthcare, education and so on.

    A Libertarian society would, it seems to me, be destined to widen the divide between rich and poor, educated and uneducated and preserve privilege for those that already have it. It seems like all the greed with none of the social responsibility.

    • A Libertarian society would, it seems to me, be destined to widen the divide between rich and poor, educated and uneducated and preserve privilege for those that already have it. It seems like all the greed with none of the social responsibility.

      Does this mean there is nothing at all of value the Libertarian or libertarian has to say? Does this mean that their net influence has not been historically positive?

      Stephen, you wouldn’t be engaging in an ad hominem attack? Na-a-a-ah!

    • g4m3th30ry says:

      “The majority of vocal Libertarians seem to be affluent and can therefore afford to pay for their own healthcare, education and so on.”

      So? The majority of vocal liberals seem to be affluent as well. It’s likely because while speech is free, the distribution of that speech is not.

      Just because you have problems with the philosophy does not mean all those holding it are the very things you despise.

  12. Donald says:

    So most atheists/humanists,etc. vote Democrat. And you view this as a bad thing? Would we really have credibility if half of us voted Republican? I’m sorry that there is not a viable national Libertarian party and a viable national Socialist party. Perhaps then you would see more diversity in humanist voting patterns. But unless we have better choices, the major party that is not run by the religious right will continue to get most humanist votes.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Yeah it’s going to be tough getting liberals and progressives, and especially skeptics to vote for the libertarian party when they have people like Richard C. Hoagland as a guest speaker during their presidential convention to give a talk about why we don’t need NASA…

      http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20080502/BLOG32/911775591/-1/newssitemap

    • Mike B. says:

      “I’m sorry that there is not a viable national Libertarian party and a viable national Socialist party.”

      I know what you meant, but the words “national socialist” have some pretty scary connotations. I did a double take when first I read that.

      • Donald says:

        Sorry about that “national Socialist” thing. Woke up in the night and realized how scary that sounded!

    • db0 says:

      Libertarian Socialists don’t care about elections, because we know that no matter who is in power, it’s the interest of the Capitalist class that are looked after, not the working class.

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        Did it possibly occur to you that the interests of the Capitalist class (whatever that is) is only possible due to all the things the government is allowed to control.

        If the government wasn’t allowed to say…. tell you how many gallons of water your toilet uses per flush, then there is no reason to lobby for or against it.

        Giving the current corrupt politicians even more control over society simply increases the number of lobbyists. It will never decrease the number.

    • Wylielea says:

      I agree with you, Donald. It will be interesting to see how things go in the next 10 to 20 years. Assuming the republican party continues to disintegrate (partially because are so committed to the religeous right agenda), there should be opportunities for the existing Libertarian and Socialist parties to fill the void. I would love to hear these other party perspectives on issues such as maintaining separation of church and state, teaching creationism in science class, funding for scientific research, etc. At this time, the Republicans fall way short of the skeptics ideal. I don’t see that Libertarian’s would do much better. I don’t know anything about the Socialists.

  13. Cambias says:

    I think the majority of these responses can be summed up as follows:

    “I’m a skeptic and a free-thinker — BUT DON’T YOU DARE CHALLENGE MY POLITICAL BELIEFS!”

    • db0 says:

      I think my response is more of a “Your political belief fall flat on their face on a more-than-cursory look”

      • Cambias says:

        Same thing, slightly more pretentious phrasing.

      • db0 says:

        Really? So making arguments showing that your political theory is crap is “pretentious phrasing”. Nice skeptic you are…

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        You act as if you proved something. That’s nice in a theoretical, if I’m a winner maybe more people will listen to me, way – but it’s not reality.

        You have no converts from what I can see… which you would think would be the ultimate goal of “winning” the debate.

        Of course when the goal is simply to prove how self righteous and perfect you are, then things like converts matter very little.

    • Sabio says:

      We have a new Libertarian Skeptics web site. Come and join as a contributor.

  14. jansob says:

    I wish skeptics would be skeptical about everyone’s panaceas.

    The Libertarians have read too much Heinlein and Rand to be realistic.

    The Dems have watched too much Micheal Moore and read too much Chomsky to believe in individual choice or any goodness in Western culture.

    The Republicans have watched too much John Wayne and read too much Adam Smith to recognize social responsibility or realize that govt has any role at all.

    I hear way too much “Bush did everything bad that has ever happened and thank God we have the ObaMessiah to end Eight Years of Hell” spewed about. Bush was a dumbass (and I tend conservative), but I do not like the headlong rush to embrace a lot of possibly half-baked solutions (dumping iron into the oceans, cap and trade, massive tax increases and spending in a mild depression). I think we are going to look back and realize that the pendulum has swung way too far to the left just because it seemed the opposite of Bush.

    I’m sure some will not want any conservatives posting here (middle of the road though I might be), but skepticism needs people from all walks.

    • db0 says:

      Skepticism is more than staying in the middle ground and condemning everyone else without proposing any actual point.

      • Tim says:

        No, jansob makes a great point: Nobody has the right answer. The key to good politics is being able to walk in the middle of the road.

      • Alex says:

        That reply doesn’t seem to logically follow.

        If “nobody has the right answers,” then why the heck would “walking in the middle of the road” be the right answer? By doing so, you would simply be walking a path of total wrongness.

        Though I believe I know what you meant, your answer was still poorly phrased.

    • MadScientist says:

      I’m glad we don’t have the Dumbass Duo of McPalin. I don’t expect Obama to work miracles, I just hope he will be sensible most of the time. I don’t agree with a lot of what he’s doing but overall he’s doing far better than Dubbyah could hope for and there is no doubt he is far more effective than McCain.

      The “cap and trade” can be made to work – although I have yet to see any proposal which looks sensible for cutting carbon dioxide emissions. There seems to be a “cap and trade” cult which believes the ideology can do no wrong just as there is a cult within economists who believe science and technology will miraculously come up with solutions to problems even without any investment in science and technology.

      • jansob says:

        Dumbass Duo, Dubbyah: This is what I mean about the spew. He’s gone. He’s not here anymore. But you just can’t get through a paragraph without the schoolyard insults.

        Cap and trade CAN be made to work, but will they sit down and go through all the ways it can be done and do it right? Don’t make me laugh. They will slam something through quickly so they can seem to be effective. Whether it works or not doesn’t matter to them. The cap and trade cult is writing the rules….that’s what I meant by half-baked…the recipe isn’t important, just get something in the oven. Then go back to jetting around the world to important conferences on how you’re saving the world by getting rid of night lights in federal housing projects (that’s sarcasm).

        In 20 years we’re going to have irreversibly wrecked our economy and made not one bit of difference in the climate. And because the economy is wrecked, poor people and countries will do what they have to to survive….burn coal, slash and burn farming, etc….undoing the reductions we made that destroyed our economy.

        I’ve heard it said that even an 80% cut within 10 years will make almost no difference because the tipping point is now. So shouldn’t we be looking at mitigation rather than futile attempts to stop it? Aren’t we dooming millions to death by trying to put out the original burning toaster rather than evacuating the house, or saving the rest of it?

        oh, never mind, I’m just ranting into the wind. I’ll go away now.

        Because of the current “system” of governance, this debate will never happen. We will never know which is the right course. Gore and his ilk chose this path for us.

  15. Max says:

    A conservative criticism of libertarianism:

    “Marxism of the Right”
    http://www.amconmag.com/article/2005/mar/14/00017/

    “If Marxism is the delusion that one can run society purely on altruism and collectivism, then libertarianism is the mirror-image delusion that one can run it purely on selfishness and individualism. Society in fact requires both individualism and collectivism, both selfishness and altruism, to function. Like Marxism, libertarianism offers the fraudulent intellectual security of a complete a priori account of the political good without the effort of empirical investigation. Like Marxism, it aspires, overtly or covertly, to reduce social life to economics. And like Marxism, it has its historical myths and a genius for making its followers feel like an elect unbound by the moral rules of their society.”

    • db0 says:

      If Marxism is the delusion that one can run society purely on altruism and collectivism,

      Fail on the first sentence. Marxism is not that.

      • Max says:

        Not in practice, but in theory.
        “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

      • db0 says:

        That doesn’t require pure altruism and collectivism.

      • Max says:

        If you get according to your need regardless how much you work, then why would you work according to your ability and not less? Either because you’re forced to, or because you’re altruistic. That’s what I described as practice and theory, respectively.

      • db0 says:

        You work according to your ability because it’s in your best interest that people do so, as this causes you to get according to your needs. If you stopped working according to your ability, then someone else wouldn’t get according to their need and so the rest of the community would peer-pressure you to do your part or else risk unraveling. As such, working according to your ability would be a moral value, similar to how avoidance of murder is a moral value. And the later doesn’t need perfectly altruistic people either

      • Peter says:

        db0: that is woo!

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        “You work according to your ability because it’s in your best interest that people do so, as this causes you to get according to your needs.”

        This is the same logic the Inuit used when old people who couldn’t work simply left the village to die.

  16. Wrysmile says:

    When a lot of the rich individuals and corporations spend an inordinate amount of effort not to pay taxes through loop holes and offshore tax havens so that they can increase their profits then why on earth would they stump up if there was no obligation to?

    what’s the difference between income tax and national income tax?

    And lastly how would a libertarian society stop government being corrupt?

    • Max says:

      If there were no government safety net, would people donate more money to charity or less?
      This, by the way, is a relatively “scientific” question. You can make a guess and test it.

      How would we measure the effectiveness of a libertarian system?
      Literacy rate, immunization rate, life expectancy, violent crime rate, unemployment rate, poverty rate, standard of living, etc. What goes up, what goes down? GDP per capita doesn’t say much because the distribution can be grossly uneven.

      • Peter says:

        GDP says less than nothing, because it includes government spending: you can make GDP as high as you like by simply wasting more money.

    • DogBreath says:

      “And lastly how would a libertarian society stop government being corrupt?”

      Simple, by giving it less to do. The percentage of corruption is likely to remain the same, but with less to do, there will be less corruption.

      • db0 says:

        Actually the only reason why there will be “less corruption” would be because the effects of it would be inherent in the system. For example, you wouldn’t need to bribe a politician to allow environmentally-hostile business tactics.

  17. Sigh.

    Why can’t skeptics have rational conversations about politics?

    I see straw men here galore, and a whole lot of confusion between Anarcho-Capitalism (NO government) and libertarianism (SMALL government).

    It sounds like Michael is a libertarian for mostly moral reasons; he believes in the Principle of Freedom. Personally, I’m a “liberaltarian” — I believe in smaller government for pragmatic reasons (I like to think that my reasons are completely rational, but I realize that’s probably not true– the Principle of Freedom resonates with me, too).

    It bothers me that any discussion of political philosophy seems to quickly descend into a “gish gallop” of “but how would THIS be handled? Oh yeah? Well what about THIS? Did you think of THIS?”

    If you’re looking for some very rational, skeptical, data-driven moderate-libertarian thinkers, check out Robin Hanson (Overcoming Bias blog), Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution blog), or the EconTalk podcast.

    • db0 says:

      bq

      Why can’t skeptics have rational conversations about politics?

      I for one see a lot of “holier than thou” from many who think they are more moderate or reasonable than the rest.

      It sounds like Michael is a libertarian for mostly moral reasons; he believes in the Principle of Freedom.

      Most right-”libertarians” are unfortunately misguided on this point as you cannot have freedom with inequality. That is just the freedom to exploit and the freedom to rule, in short, freedom only for the rich.

      • Is economic inequality morally wrong? I don’t think it is. If I invest more of my life, risk more, and work more than you do, my morality dictates that I am entitled to an economic imbalance relative to you in favor of me. For anyone to force a balance under these circumstances is to rob from me and discount my additional efforts. Ultimately, under such circumstance, everyone suffers.

      • Peter says:

        Anarcho-communists are morons. Is it morally wrong for one man to be smarter than another? We’d have to live in the world of Harrison Bergeron to have the “equality” they demand (actually, not even then).

        As Rothbard put it, egalitarianism is a revolt against human nature.

      • Peter says:

        You “eviscerated” it by claiming that “egalitarian” doesn’t mean what you actually mean by it, but only “that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights”; but that completely destroys your own claims about libertarianism (which insists on the same thing).

      • db0 says:

        You quote wikipedia to me? Did you notice that I also said “Here let me give you a hint of what most people mean by “Egalitarianism”

        which insists on the same thing).

        Really? Right-”Libertarianism” advocates economic equality? Because without it, there is no equality on political, social and civil rights. The power resider in the richer element.

      • Peter says:

        I’m not quoting Wikipedia, I’m quoting your article (which is quoting Wikipedia).

        And yes, depending on what you mean by “economic equality”; if you mean everyone has the same amount of money (equivalently: resources), no; but if you started out with everyone having the same amount of money, some people would soon have more than other by virtue of the other natural inequality you now seem to be denying must be equalized – i.e., that some are smarter than others, some strong, some harder-working, some lazier, etc.; the only way to maintain the “economic equality” you started off with would be to make everyone absolutely equal, Procrustean style…just as Rothbard contends.

      • db0 says:

        but if you started out with everyone having the same amount of money, some people would soon have more than other by virtue of the other natural inequality you now seem to be denying must be equalized – i

        Not if they cannot accumulate in the form of private property!

        Ta-daaaa! Economic equality without being affected by individualism.

      • db0 says:

        PS: Most of the time, it’s not “natural inequality” that makes people more unequal, that’s Rothbartian fantasies. It’s economic inequality that breeds more inequality. Simply, an exchange between inequal individuals will end up benefiting the more powerful. Even Austrians admitted this!

        Allow “natural inequality” but prevent it from creating economic inequality (ie, abolish Private property) and it then flows naturally without the need for coercion.

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        You’ve been labeling people as misguided, ignorant, immoral, etc, etc, etc

        & you see in others “holier than thou” attitudes… I will grant you before you even try that I don’t have all the answers, but what I can see clearly is when projection rears its ugly head.

    • Sabio says:

      Gavin — We have a new Libertarian Skeptics web site. We need you ! Come and join as a contributor.

    • Peter says:

      I see straw men here galore, and a whole lot of confusion between Anarcho-Capitalism (NO government) and libertarianism (SMALL government).

      And people trying to pretend libertarianism is something different from anarcho-capitalism.

  18. SicPreFix says:

    Perhaps the blog should be renamed Skeptipoliblog, or PoliSkep101, or better yet, Shermer’s Stump.

    Off to the hustings we roll.

    Gavin Andresen, perhaps skeptics cannot have rational conversations about politics because politics involves so much opinion, bias, and wishful thinking, and so little, so very little, science, fact, and veracity.

    • Peter says:

      Except that, where there is science, fact, and veracity, “skeptics” ignore it, claim it doesn’t exist, and proceed to claim it’s impossible.

    • I have often told others that “politics begins where certainty ends.” If the results of an executive decision would be certain, then an administrator could execute that decision without much additional thought. When trade-offs occur and results are less certain (especially when costs are high), then emotions flare and “politics” are allowed to reign.

      This is the human condition. No skeptic can wish this away. The (scientific) skeptic must learn to live, work and play with other humans as well. Why should the skeptic not examine issues of morality and ethics if moral and ethical decision making will affect their lives from time to time? I think this is the primary point of Shermer’s blog article: skeptics are indeed obliged (by virtue of not living secluded on an island) to consider issues of morality and ethics. For Michael Shermer his “going in” position is libertarianism—let the (scientifically) skeptical debate begin!

  19. Lost Left Coaster says:

    What baffles me about libertarians is that they critique concentrated governmental power but seem to have no problem with concentrated corporate power. What serves to check corporate power? I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer from a libertarian; rather, just vague notions of freedom and responsibility, but seriously: what will serve as a check on corporate power once you’ve “drowned the government in the bathtub,” as anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist said?

    • db0 says:

      The quick answer will be that “Corporatism would be impossible without the state” or “Perfect competition will fix all” but that’s just wishful thinking on their part.

    • tmac57 says:

      I have the same problem with Libertarianism. The history of corporate power abuses (and all forms of abuse of power) in my view is what has led us to where we are now politically, for better or worse. We see a problem, and make a law or institution or agency to try to deal with it. This is of course not an ideal situation, but the point is, it is the tendency toward abuse of power that forces society to compromise and adapt in order to continue to function and serve the people.

      • Peter says:

        There is no such thing as “corporate power”. What power does a “corporation” have? Exclude whatever power is granted to it by government, since that is a problem of the current, non-libertarian, system, not of libertarianism. It sells things to people – things they want; if it fails to do what they want, it loses customers and eventually goes out of business. That, my friend, is true democracy!

      • Chris says:

        “if it fails to do what they want, it loses customers and eventually goes out of business. That, my friend, is true democracy!”

        Unless it’s in a monopoly situation with something like water supply, in which case, most people have no choice. That is true tyranny.

      • db0 says:

        things they want; if it fails to do what they want, it loses customers and eventually goes out of business. That, my friend, is true democracy!

        If you consider democracy to equal “One dollar one vote” only.

        In fact, you’re even wrong about your argument, since in actual existing capitalism, companies that do not do what the customers want, can still retain themselves based on previous earnings. So perhaps you’re talking about the (very) long run, but “In the long run, we’re all dead”

    • Healthy, free will competition ought to check corporate power.

    • From a government responsibility point of view enforcement of the right of self-preservation, enforcement of property rights, and the enforcement of the rights of free association and free thought (right of the freedom from coercion) are the best ways that government can uphold healthy, free will competition and hence maintain checks on corporate power. This, I believe, is the Libertarian point of view.

      I have heard the case made that corporations, nay individuals, have held the greatest power and done the most damaged when their positions of power have been sanctioned (directly or indirectly) by the coercion of government. One of the reasons General Motors, for instance, may not have been allowed to fail is because of our government’s dependence on them for military vehicles, aircraft engines and so on. If it were not for this government dependence (and indeed, dependence upon the technologies of force) would GM have possessed the power to even consider flying (later, driving) to Washington in order to beg for cash? If it weren’t for this dependence, would they have had any other means to suggest they could have been successful at such a venture? In fact, people seem to often note that the corporations and individuals with government pull are the ones that survive at the cost of those without such pull. If it were expected, codified and enforced that economics and government shall never intertwine, could conditions conducive to overwhelming corporate and individual power ever arise in the first place?

  20. Wylielea says:

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for the clear and detailed explanation of your view on this. Although I don’t agree on a few points, I do agree with many. That’s ok with me and I appreciate that you have shared these ideas with us so that we may think and discuss them.

    On the issue of skeptics being mostly liberal, I’d like to point out one possible logical fallacy in yours statements. You say “…because most people think that the skeptical/humanist movement is (or should be) politically neutral. If it were, there would be roughly a 50/50 split of liberals and conservatives.” That might be true if our society in general were a 50/50 split – but I’m not sure that is the case. Especially since the skeptic/humanist community is made up of people from all over the world. I would ask, does the liberal/conservative mix within the skeptic/humanist community differ from society in general?

    • Badger3k says:

      I too find this troubling “because most people think that the skeptical/humanist movement is (or should be) politically neutral. If it were, there would be roughly a 50/50 split of liberals and conservatives. But it isn’t, and I think that’s a problem. Humanists, for example, are supposed to be in favor of all humans, but when virtually our entire constituency votes Democratic, that means we are missing half the human population! ”

      Why? Does the same hold true for other things – since skeptics should be neutral, they should be 1/2 in favor of creationism or holocaust denial, as they are ignoring a large segment of some populations. Heresy! Perhaps the fact that (it seems) most skeptics vote Democratic and not Republican may have more to do with the anti-intellectualism and fundamentalist ideology of the Republican party, rather than there being something wrong with the skeptics/humanists.

      And in what way are we missing half the human population? Even assuming that there is an even 50/50 split (which I doubt), in what sense are we missing them? Are they not invited to the tea-parties (oh, wait, that’s someone else)? Ever think that one political party currently seems more concerned with the same causes that humanists or skeptics favor? Perhaps the alienation works in more ways than one. There are a lot of assumptions being made in this post, which seems to be an advertisement to “buy my book”. When can we return to skepticism, which I thought was the main reason for this blog?

  21. Paul F says:

    You know, all this talk of politics has made me decide that I no longer want to visit this site.

    It’s not why I come here.

    Farewell.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Agreed. I thought this was going to be a site, and possible TV show, about scientific skepticism.

    • This is just one conversation thread amongst many. If you want to have an honest, logical, scientifically skeptical discussion about something other than politics, then peruse the comment trail of some other blog entry.

  22. PhilB says:

    Y’know, technically skeptics should fallow the best evidence available to a rational conclusion. Any pre-conceived notion that skeptics should fall 50/50 across the political spectrum would seem to hinder the ability to follow the evidence.

    It would seem that part of the problem with discussing politics and economics in a skeptical blog is that both seem to be based more on ideology than actual evidence. Or, the evidence presented is from fictional thought problems and/or ideologically biased analysis.

    That all being said, I have a problem with libertarianism in that it assumes that what is good for the individual is good for the whole, and no balanciing influence is required. I suggest trying that with an army in a major battle, “just go off and do what seems best to you”. Wonder how many general’s would like that idea.

    • Peter says:

      Agreed….but look at all the replies here saying “keep politics out of it” – evidence that so-called skeptics are reluctant to pursue the evidence where it leads.

    • Peter says:

      I suggest trying that with an army in a major battle, “just go off and do what seems best to you”. Wonder how many general’s would like that idea.

      The generals wouldn’t like it, but would sure save a lot of lives!

      • PhilB says:

        Would it? Depends on which is more important, saving lives or winning the engagement. From the perspective of a tournament chess player, the worst thing in the world is for your pieces to lack coordination and not work together. You’ll lose every time.

        Another thing to remember is that the reason all sorts of reels exist in folk music was their purpose was to coordinate the efforts of significant numbers of people. 100 people manning a capstain wouldn’t budge it an inch, but 100 people all pushing in rhythm at the same time will actually raise the anchor.

      • Peter says:

        Winning the engagement is only ever a concern for the government. War is a statist activity. From a purely defensive point of view, large-scale coordination isn’t necessary. Small-scale coordination, like your 100 people pushing on a (huge!!!) capstan doesn’t require coercion.

      • PhilB says:

        I suggest you study warfare and combat a little more. It is interesting how you suggest that winning American Revolution was only a concern for the government, or the War of 1812, or the American Civil War, or WWII. Results of these significantly affected both government and individuals. So history doesn’t really support your point.

        Now define the difference between small and large scale coordination. This is totally irrelevent. From a defensive point of view, coordination is still necessary…..otherwise you will lose and I won’t even enjoy beating you because it wasn’t even a challange. (Trying to avoid cliches about best deffence and good offences.)

        Your knowledge about the discipline involved in the Age of Sail is also lacking. The Capstan on the HMS Victory could be manned by 240-260 men, so 100 would be an average to small vessel. http://www.port21.pl/article_1071.html

  23. The Goucho says:

    Although, as usual, there are bunches of excellent responses to Shermer’s on-going irrational, anti-skeptical, faith-based rantings in support of Libertarianism, the “Chris” and “intepid” team do an outstanding job of exposing the fallacies and nonsense he is espousing. Follow their comments; they seem to be real skeptics. In addition, I still wonder: Is MS trying to pull our collective legs or is he simply of the same fanatical mindset he was in when, at other times in his life, he fell under the spells of Christianity and cycling (and now Libertarianism)? Say it ain’t so, Michael.

    • Again, I got the impression from his writing that he feels that since politics is an important part of all of our lives it ought to be open to skeptical inquiry. I also got the impression Michael Shermer was stating his personal “going in” position (libertarianism), giving us his reasons for his position, then allowing the debate to continue. What is wrong with this? After all, is it not honest?

      • The Goucho says:

        Bush gave us reasons for “going into” Iraq. That debate continues. In and of themselves, reasons aren’t necessarily associated with logic and reason, nor are they necessarily “honest.” It all depends on the motivation behind them.

  24. Brian M says:

    I think most of us “dirty atheists” are liberal because we see personal rights as being far more important then economic rights, and the need to protect those _right now_ is far more important then the “utopia” of protecting those rights, AND having “economic freedom” later, since there is no political party (in the US anyways) that represents both of those rights with any power.

    That being said, I don’t think turning over all control to “group think” is a good idea either. People are very prey to peer pressure, and especially advertising. Corporations have become very good at manipulating people over TV and Radio.

    Michael, I propose this challenge to you. Find us some good, solid statistics that have a definite trend of “less taxes, more philanthropy”. Take states and countries with lower taxes, and if more people give more money to needy causes then states or countries with higher taxes, then I will drop down and convert to libertarianism. I don’t think you will find such statistics, but hey, it can’t hurt to try.

    That leads me to my problem with libertarianism (or whatever the correct suffix may be): Those who cannot help themselves are left in the gutter. I don’t have the specific material, but I recall that “privatization” of fire brigades resulted in some serious problems. If the building owner had not paid insurance to a company that honored one fire brigade, then the building would just burn.

    I agree with what you have to say, I just don’t think you are being rational about reality on this one. In a utopian world, democratic communism would work too. But, we all know that it doesn’t work in the real world (at least, not at scale).

    • Brian, I believe you are misunderstanding the political movement called Libertarianism. Please search for my name on this page (“Nicole Tedesco”) and read my previous comments.

  25. Jason Loxton says:

    The problem with Libertarian skeptics is that Libertarianism does two different things: 1) It provides a statement of ethics and political philosophy, e.g., that my property rights supersede your claim to a basic guaranteed income, etc., and 2) It makes a sweeping claim about the kind of system that will prove most efficient in delivering goods and services in all or nearly all circumstances.

    The first claim is sort of asshole-y, but totally compatible with skepticism. The later claim, however, is a scientific one, and one that is demonstrably wrong in many instances, e.g., the cost effectiveness of regulated vs. unregulated health care. It is this later, scientifically presumptuous, aspect of Libertarianism that, like socialism, puts it into conflict with the basic principles of skeptical inquiry.

    When Shermer (and others) write of building an edifice of science to support their economic presumptions, any good skeptic should cringe. That’s not how science works. Theory should be TESTED by the evidence. And yet, there is a striking failure in Shermer’s writing to acknowledge (or defer to) either the body of contemporary social science or the annals of history in evaluating the effectiveness of the market in any given circumstance. (Why, for example, no consideration at all in his blog post on education of the most obviously relevant case study: US education PRIOR to the introduction of public schools?)

    Responsible scientists work to overcome the influences of their political beliefs, not to justify them.

    • Peter says:

      But you get to define “unregulated”, and then pretend that libertarians have the same meaning? I.e., when you speak of “regulated vs unregulated health care”, I expect you’re thinking of the US health-care system as “unregulated”? But it’s actually one of the most heavily regulated health care systems in the world, if not the most heavily regulated. So you start of comparing (say) “regulated” Sweden with the “unregulated” US, but if the latter is actually more heavily regulated than the former, your result proves (or rather, “evidences”) precisely the opposite of what you think it proves.

      Why, for example, no consideration at all in his blog post on education of the most obviously relevant case study: US education PRIOR to the introduction of public schools?

      John Taylor Gatto wrote a whole book on that subject. (Which, again, evidences precisely the opposite of what you probably think)

    • @Jason Loxton

      (Why, for example, no consideration at all in his blog post on education of the most obviously relevant case study: US education PRIOR to the introduction of public schools?)

      If technological and social innovation could one day lie moot the need for public education, would we be capable of curtailing government expenditure on public education? The Great Libertarian Fear is not that majority-coerced investment in public education is bad in of itself, but that once the rational need no longer existed the means would continue to live on and on, continuing to waste stolen private resources (stolen because the tax money would no longer be needed or even desired by the majority) in the wake of the momentum of human power and for the sake of the comfort of the government employee.

      • Chris says:

        If technological and social innovation could one day lie moot the need for public education
        [...]
        but that once the rational need no longer existed the means would continue to live on and on

        Sorry? Once the need for public education was no longer needed? You fear the result of a highly unlikely hypothetical? How paranoid are you? Society would be so different at that point, that I doubt current models would apply.

      • Chris, indeed you may have a very, very point there! Another interesting discussion to have is the nature of government and economics as a function of the ever increasing rate of technological innovation.

  26. cputter says:

    Hi Michael,

    Some simple advice in trying to argue with socialists: liberals (the classical type) and statists are of two differing opinions on human nature. Statists believe that humans (other humans, obviously not themselves) are inherently evil and need to be forced to be good. Whereas classical liberals believe that humans are inherently good with some evil tendencies. No matter how hard you debate you won’t get past this ideological point.

    So try and stick to topics which we can debate over and where there is empirical research supporting your argument, ie. instead of a broad collectivism bad / individualism good debate try and focus on specific topics:

    - Does socialised medicine work?
    - The FDA’s nett result per year is dead people.
    - Is the free market the most efficient way of allocating resources?
    - Is a centrally planned economy even possible? (Mises proved this)
    - Is a centrally planned monetary system possible?
    - Are school vouchers a better solution for educating our kids?
    - Would privately owned roads be as innovative as privately owned telecoms?
    - Would the 20 odd years delay in global warming be worth restricting global CO2 emissions to 20%?
    - Does the minimum wage harm poor people the most?

    Unfortunately the left tends to be uninformed when it comes to economics (I believe reading Krugman’s columns in the NY Times is to blame for this). There are many economic fallacies out there that one should be sceptical about, and all of them might make for interesting blog posts.

    There are some very good reasons to be sceptical about the government too, though if we’re going to have a healthy debate about this maybe we should try one issue at a time instead of this pointless ideological free for all…

    Kind regards,

    A sceptical anarcho-capitalist

    • Max says:

      “The FDA’s net result per year is dead people.”
      Yeah, I read about all these natural cures THEY don’t want you to know about.

      • cputter says:

        http://www.fdareview.org/harm.shtml

        “””
        The Grisly Comparison

        The delay and large reduction in the total number of new drugs has had terrible consequences. It is difficult to estimate how many lives the post-1962 FDA controls have cost, but the number is likely to be substantial; Gieringer (1985) estimates the loss of life from delay alone to be in the hundreds of thousands (not to mention millions of patients who endured unnecessary morbidity). When we look back to the pre-1962 period, do we find anything like this tragedy? The historical record—decades of a relatively free market up to 1962—shows that voluntary institutions, the tort system, and the pre-1962 FDA succeeded in keeping unsafe drugs to a low level. The Elixir Sulfanilamide tragedy, in which 107 people died, was the worst of those decades. Every life lost is important, but the grisly comparison is necessary. The number of victims of Elixir Sulfanilamide tragedy and of all other drug tragedies prior to 1962 is very small compared to the death toll of the post-1962 FDA.
        “””

        That study only looked at the delay the FDA caused for new medicine to become available. One should also take note of the fact that after stricter regulations were imposed in 1962 the number of new drugs per year was halved. Currently it takes 10-12 years for a new drug to be developed, compared to 3-4 years prior to 1962. This has devastating effects on competition between pharmaceutical companies since it’s very hard for a new company to enter the market if they can only expect to start making profits after 1 decade.

        “””
        [T]he benefits of FDA regulation relative to that in foreign countries could reasonably be put at some 5,000 casualties per decade or 10,000 per decade for worst-case scenarios. In comparison, it has been argued above that the cost of FDA delay can be estimated at anywhere from 21,000 to 120,000 lives per decade. Given the uncertainties of the data, these results must be interpreted with caution, although it seems clear that the costs of regulation are substantial when compared to benefits.
        “””

      • Max says:

        Because there’s not enough quack medicine, false advertising, consumer fraud, and unsafe drugs out there.

      • cputter says:

        So you don’t have any data to refute the fact the the FDA kills many more people every year then it saves?

        Or is your argument that it doesn’t matter what the actual effect of the FDA is, as long as their *intent* is to protect consumers they have a legitimate reason to exist.

      • Peter says:

        Lefties are all about feelings over facts, so undoubtedly the latter.

      • Max says:

        My argument is that the FDA is just about the only thing that keeps drug companies honest about their products. The success of “alternative medicine” has made it obvious that huge profits can be made selling worthless remedies, and companies have little financial incentive to prove that their products work as advertised.

        It’s hard enough for me to trust drugs that are FDA-approved and doctor-prescribed, let alone remedies that aren’t.

      • Max says:

        I’d be fine if the FDA just graded drugs, because I’d simply avoid drugs with a low or no grade, and insurance wouldn’t cover them. (Would you then accuse insurance companies of killing people?)
        But we see what people do out of desperation. They get their amalgam fillings pulled and go to homeopaths.

      • cputter says:

        @Max

        Ok, the FDA would do much less harm if they simply graded drugs and medical procedures. It would allow pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs faster. Less people die and most people are better off (except the big drug companies who would hopefully face more competition).

        Your insurance company would pay for medication / procedures that don’t work, forcing them to continue paying until you are magically healed? Sounds like they’re going broke pretty soon…

        If your doctor is prescribing bogus medication most people would advise you to go to a different doctor.

      • Max says:

        “If your doctor is prescribing bogus medication most people would advise you to go to a different doctor.”

        Homeopaths prescribe bogus medication, and people still go to them and recommend them to others.

        Without regulation, big drug companies would spend all their money on marketing instead of ensuring safety and efficacy. Why get their drug graded when ungraded snake oil is flying off the shelves? Insurance coverage won’t even be important if competition drives down the price of Uncle Quack’s Miracle Cancer Cure Tonic.

      • BubbaRich says:

        The current situation is limiting corruption, but not eliminating it. Even in the current situation, companies pay millions to wine and dine doctors and office staff to get their medicine selected. Can you imagine what this would be like if any company could do this with anything they wanted to call a “drug,” and it didn’t even have to be vetted by the FDA for safety first? How long would it take for you to choose a drug, or for you or your doctor to discover that the medication improves a condition for 300 people, but a competing product improves it for 1200 people? How long would it take for you to find out that one medicine kills 23 people per million patients, while a competitor only kills 3 per million?

        These data collections and management and enforcement are expensive. And they are worthwhile. They have streamlined the process a lot in the last 15 years, with modern technology, but they still are forced to balance streamlining with monitoring and controlling corruption.

        Privately owned roads are only a slightly better idea than privately owned water utilities.

        Oh, and your opening strawmen are pretty amusing, too. I like to think of myself as a classical liberal, but I think that humans are essentially selfish, and moderate this with natural sympathies and with a higher-level selfish altruism.

      • cputter says:

        So you agree that the FDA kills more people than it saves?

        What exactly is your counter argument then? And what does corruption have to do with anything? The FDA’s purpose is to ‘protect and promote’ your health. Their effect on your health is the exact opposite.

        I’d agree that humans are essentially selfish, though we tend to satisfy our wants through peaceful cooperation with others because this is in our best interests. This cooperation manifests in ‘good’ behaviour towards each other, which is I why I think people are essentially good. Collectivists on the other hand thinks selfishness itself is bad, which is why they think people are essentially evil.

        From your comment I take it you think selfishness is bad too?

      • BubbaRich says:

        cputter:

        I’m replying here, since my browser isn’t showing me a reply to your level of comment.

        I don’t agree that the FDA kills more people than it saves. “Corruption” is what it saves people from, in large part. It protects us from companies who, on their own, would put effort into selling their products to our doctors not based on efficiency or safety, but on profit for both parties.

        I don’t know if I would reify “selfishness” to say that it’s good or bad itself. I think it just _is_ (okay, that’s reification, too), and it can be harnessed for good or ill by ourselves and others.

    • db0 says:

      I just can’t avoid not replying here:

      - Does socialised medicine work?

      Better than private medicine yes.

      - The FDA’s nett result per year is dead people.

      No idea what that’s supposed to ask.

      - Is the free market the most efficient way of allocating resources?

      Not unless you beg the question.

      - Is a centrally planned economy even possible? (Mises proved this)

      Yes but worse than a decentralized one. I wouldn’t trust Mr “If theory contradicts reality, ignore reality” Mises as far as I could throw him.

      - Is a centrally planned monetary system possible?

      No

      - Are school vouchers a better solution for educating our kids?

      Better than what?

      - Would privately owned roads be as innovative as privately owned telecoms?

      No. It would be a disaster. Much worse than privately owned telecoms have been. Probably worse than privately own fire services. Or privately owned railways.

      - Would the 20 odd years delay in global warming be worth restricting global CO2 emissions to 20%?

      What?

      - Does the minimum wage harm poor people the most?

      No. On the contrary actually. All neoclassical economic arguments to the contrary have been debunked both in theory and in empirical evidence.

    • Philosophy is important to the scientific skeptic. After all isn’t scientific skepticism itself a metaphysical, epistemological and even moral and ethical framework? For instance, is it ethical for a scientific skeptic to lie about the empirical results of a properly conducted scientific study? (What does “properly conducted” mean?)

      Whereas nature seems to abhor a vacuum in general, humans seem to abhor philosophical vacuums. If the scientific skeptic assumes that philosophy is irrelevant, then those they are trying to educate will make up philosophies of their own or latch on to the first one they hear of that has any semblance of cohesiveness. If scientific skeptics cannot discuss philosophy and politics, then scientific skepticism is doomed to be overtaken by others with differing philosophical points of view (i.e., even by committed epistemological skeptics)!

  27. Beelzebud says:

    As Isaac Asimov said of Libertarian philosophy: I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve.

    Well done my friend. You seem to have fractured this “community” beyond repair. I had high hopes for this website, and the possible TV show, when it was introduced to me by Phil Plait, but I guess many of us assumed this would be a place for skepticism of pseudo-science. Instead we’re treated with pseudo-science in regards to political beliefs.

    Were you planning on using the TV show as a platform for the libertarian party as well?

    • Joe Mamma says:

      laughably absurd

    • Chris says:

      I have to agree. Shermer has hijacked this skeptical experiment and turned it into a political soapbox from which he espouses his baseless, unsupported political option as superior.

      Take note Dr Shermer, I and many other skeptics don’t care about your politcal opinions. If I wanted to hear libertarian blowhards rant on about how the mean old government is stealing their money and why can’t everyone just take personal responsibility, I would go to a liberarian website. This blog is not appropriate for your political commentary.

      • Chris, I do not agree. I get the impression that Shermer is attempting to do the honest thing and admit and explain his biases. I would bet a year’s paycheck that he is an honest man and is interested in absorbing our feedback in order to perfect his knowledge (and practice) of philosophy and politics.

        Keep in mind this is the second of two blog entries on this subject. The first blog entry was his attempt to admit his bias. This blog entry is an attempt to explain some of the details of his bias. I appreciate being informed of this man’s biases so that I can be better discern the semantic intent of his past and future writings.

      • Chris says:

        I don’t for a second believe Michael to be dishonest. But remember that this isn’t the second part of a two part series that exists on its own, but an explanation of his biases as a result of a post he made on his opinion towards education (his libertarian opinions towards education). The education post was not related to anything other than an expression of his libertarian ideals in regard to education. He should have made these opinions in a more appropriate forum and left this site to its original purpose – the promotion of scientific skepticism. He shouldn’t have used it as a political soapbox – he’s Michael Shermer, he has plenty of other outlets for his political ideologies.

      • kabol says:

        Take note Dr Shermer, I and many other skeptics don’t care about your politcal opinions.

        so don’t read them.

    • Sark says:

      I really don’t understand what all this “fracturing” business is about. Do we have to be in lockstep on every issue like a bunch of brownshirts to be a “community”? It seems more like people bitching because and opinion was expressed that they disagree with. I imagine that if the political topic Shermer was talking about involved lambasting Miss California or Dick Cheney, there wouldn’t be near the number of people whining about bringing politics into the sacred site of a skeptic blog.

      • Beelzebud says:

        No you’re absolutely wrong. If I wanted to read about politics, I’d go to one of the millions of political websites on the internet.

        Likewise, if I wanted to read about libertarianism, I’d find a libertarian website, and read it. This site was supposed to be about scientific skepticism. I don’t want people to be “brownshirts”, I just don’t want this concept ruined by politics, because politics is not a provable science.

        Is that really too hard to grasp?

      • The feedback graphs hosted in the sidebar above may help to clarify this issue. Some topics do seem to be met with greater division (and lesser approval) than others.

      • This is just one topic of discussion on a website devoted to many topics of discussion. Skip over this topic and go to the next one.

      • Peter says:

        because politics is not a provable science.

        Is that a provable statement?

      • kabol says:

        Is that really too hard to grasp?

        this site IS dedicated to skepticism, and obviously the concept of skipping over the few political articles that bother a few of you so much IS too much for you to grasp.

      • Jason Lee says:

        You complain… yet you can’t seem to leave.

    • Ought not a useful scientific skeptical discussion illuminate where the good skeptic is indeed shy of their own epistemological goals?

  28. Beelzebud says:

    “It is none of the government’s business who I choose to help and give aid and charity to, and I find it deeply morally repugnant that bureaucratic agencies have the legal right to confiscate my wealth through force or the threat of force (taxes)”

    And this is the crux of it. Total selfishness. How do you expect to have all of those things in your 12 points, without taxes? As a supreme court justice once said: Taxes are the price we pay for a modern society.

    • Joe Mamma says:

      I don’t think libertarians or Mike are of the opinion that we shouldn’t have taxes. Your misplacing an issue of degree with an issue of type. Taxes are acceptable. What is not acceptable is taxation out of control at gunpoint.

      I went to college, got educated, and have a good job. AT LEAST 30 minutes of every hour I work goes to the government.

      • BubbaRich says:

        JoeMamma:

        What country do you live in? If you’re talking about US income taxes, you’re lying, and if you’re talking about all the taxes you pay, including property tax, then you’re welcome to move to a place where you don’t have to fund a nice civilization of services. Somalia is a libertarian paradise!

      • Joe Mamma says:

        25% income tax bracket. Add in an 8% sales tax, a gas tax, property tax, tolls on the highway, registering my car, buying beer, paying for internet service, and on and on and on.

        Do the math.

      • Anthony O'Neal says:

        Government spending in the US is about 20% of the total GDP. And since some of that spending is done through borrowing, that means average taxation levels are around 15%. Although, of course, GDP includes people who don’t pay taxes, like housewives and children.

        But when people say they pay 50% of their income in taxes, they are usually vastly overestimating things. A billionaire in Manhattan, maybe, not the middle class.

      • PhilB says:

        An 8% sales tax is not based on your income but how much you spend and on what things. (Groceries not being taxed, etc). Same with gas tax, it’s a percentage of how much you spend on gas not your income. Property tax, on the value of your property, etc.

        Why not try calculating your actual tax burden against your gross income instead of trying to add apples and oranges together.

      • Joe Mamma says:

        Are my only options Somalia or 50% taxation?

      • Sark says:

        You could try one of the Persian Gulf sheikdoms. They have very low taxes. Their motto is “no representation without taxation.”

      • Joe Mamma says:

        I thought that was sort of our motto too.

      • tmac57 says:

        Shermer”I find it deeply morally repugnant that bureaucratic agencies have the legal right to confiscate my wealth through force or the threat of force (taxes)”
        Joe Mamma says: “I don’t think libertarians or Mike are of the opinion that we shouldn’t have taxes.”
        See any contradiction?

      • Joe Mamma says:

        Apparently you have missed the point. I thought it was fairly self explanatory but if I must…

        The problem isn’t taxes, not in and of themselves. The problem is not paying for school or giving medicine to children. The problem is rampant over taxation to pay for gigantic bureaucratic entities that get a 25 cent return on every dollar they take and spend it on things that are not necessities. I understand that what I consider a necessity may not be what you consider a necessity but I don’t believe that tax credits for people who don’t pay taxes is a necessity. I don’t think I should be responsible for raising multiple children of a woman who chooses to have unprotected sex and get pregnant with no means of providing for her offspring.

      • I don’t think I should be responsible for raising multiple children of a woman who chooses to have unprotected sex and get pregnant with no means of providing for her offspring.

        It’s funny how often the “taxation is slavery” schtick boils down to this.

      • Wylielea says:

        Joe Mamma, your exagerations (ie. 50% taxation, at gun point) make it hard to take you seriously. I am in the same tax bracket as you, and I have a very high standard of living – even after paying those taxes. I also enjoy the benfits of the federal infrastructure that those tax dollars pay for (a well defended country, road system, schools, elderly neighbors who can afford to eat, etc). You have not convinced me life in a Libertarian world could be better.

      • Joe Mamma says:

        My point is pretty simple. I believe that taxation in this country is excessive, radically excessive in fact, and that I can better spend my money than the government can. My 50% number is off the cuff and is not precise but it’s not far off. We are taxed constantly, at the governments every opportunity in almost every facet of our lives.

        “a well defended country, road system, schools, elderly neighbors who can afford to eat”

        That’s a gigantic straw man. Never did I suggest that these things are not necessary or worth paying for.

        “You have not convinced me life in a Libertarian world could be better.”

        Also a bit of a straw man in that that’s not really what I’m shooting for here. I’m simply suggesting that taxation is excessive and spending is wasteful.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Actually your figure of 50% taxation is a wild exaggeration. Start out by being honest, and people might take you seriously.

  29. Matthew says:

    Perhaps it’d be easier for you to start by trying to increase the proportion of women or Western racial minorities (if you aim to be global in representation) on the website, and in the show.

  30. Iris says:

    I bought a couple of Shermer’s books a few years ago, and something about them rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I decided I wasn’t going to buy any more of them. Now I’m beginning to get it. He’s a selfish, egotistical fanatic and that was coming through somehow. And he still thinks privatizing Social Security is a good idea? That’s all I need to know to write him off. I don’t want to live in a libertarian jungle. Libertarians do, because they always think they will be the biggest, meanest dog in the jungle. The minute a bigger, meaner dog comes along, they’ll run home to the nearest government entity, crying their eyes out for protection.

    I agree with some of the above commenters that this site has become poisonous. I’ve lost interest in the Skeptologists and I just may let my subscription to Skeptic magazine expire. I’ve always liked Skeptical Inquirer better anyway.

    • The Goucho says:

      Interesting observations. I think you’re on to something. Maybe Shermer should revise one of his titles to read “Why Michael Shermer Believes Weird Things.” Ditto on the Skeptologists. Seems like some kind of elitist club instead of a vehicle for promoting skepticism. I, too, might stick with Skeptical Inquirer from now on. Much more likable folks there, methinks. Where I disagree with you is about this site becoming poisonous. Hell, I don’t know when I’ve read so many thoughtful, reasonable, entertaining & smart responses and comments from such a variety of fellow skeptics in a long, long time. It’s invigorating. Thanx, all.

      • Do you believe in anything weird? I know I catch myself believing in weird things from time to time and I work hard to deal with those issues as I recognize them. Recognition however, is not the same thing as understanding and is certainly not the same thing as “taming”, “rationalizing” or even “perfecting”. All take time, time that comes from continued learning, discussion with peers and life experience.

        Since when did it become morally repugnant for a scientific skeptic to discuss philosophy, politics or their own biases which they continue to struggle with? Since when has honesty become morally repugnant?

      • The Goucho says:

        First, I don’t really believe in anything “weird”; I guess that’s why I’m a skeptic. Second, I never used the words “morally repugnant,” nor would I. Finally Shermer never said he was struggling with Libertarianism. His presentation is unequivocal.

      • Let me rephrase: have you ever caught yourself believing in anything “weird?” Even if you have corrected yourself after the fact, have you ever had the self correcting experience scientific skeptics fight hard to promote?

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        No correction needed Nicole, there is simply no believable way Goucho can some how magically escape the hardwired problems inherit in human thinking.

        As a matter of fact, it would seem to me that the stating “I don’t believe in anything weird” is by definition weird.

    • Sark says:

      “He’s a selfish, egotistical fanatic and that was coming through somehow.”

      Don’t you just love it when people ascribe personality traits to political opinions? I especially love the characterization of all libertarians as selfish. It’s especially amusing in light of the fact that I personally know more than one libertarian who is actively involved in charity work. (and I say all this as a non-libertarian).

    • …this site has become poisonous. I’ve lost interest in the Skeptologists and I just may let my subscription to Skeptic magazine expire. I’ve always liked Skeptical Inquirer better anyway.

      I’m sorry you feel that way, and I certainly agree that our colleagues at the Skeptical Inquirer do a wonderful job.

      I do hasten to emphasize that while Dr. Shermer sometimes explores political ideas in his personal blog entries, the Skeptics Society (publisher of Skeptic magazine, and host of Skepticblog) is officially apolitical.

      If you have questions or comments about the editorial policy of Skeptic or the Skeptics Society, please don’t hesitate to write to editorial@skeptic.com

  31. harbour says:

    In my opinion the bias towards liberal vs. conservative, left versus right is due to greater importance being placed on non finance related freedoms (choice, etc), and a recognition of the massive social inequities inacted by ‘free’ economics…

    • Matthew says:

      Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives ( http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html )

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        Does he consider that the “left of center” open people who run most of the universities are actively curtailing free speech in the name of openness?

        That whole thing is just laughable – he jokes about “non-open” people eating at Applebee’s, but “no one here (his audience)” – but isn’t it closed minded to laugh at a chain restaurant simply because it’s a chain?

        The whole thing is a long explanation on how his “openness” has pushed him to completely write off a major political philosophy. I haven’t seen anything this self serving in a very long time.

        Maybe with the exception of the one comment further up about willing to “force” someone to give them surgery simply because they’re sick and if only others has been sick they would agree.

        Sorry – but I don’t agree that removing someone’s freedom can ever been rationalized. Forcing this and forcing that for the good others is slavery.

  32. Dwatney says:

    I may have replied something like this to a previous post, but I’ll risk repeating myself.

    The average skeptic doesn’t seem to have much skepticism of big government.

    As for all you “be a good skeptic and put it to the test” people out there… We would be happy to! There is just that little detail about having to elect a Libertarian government to do so. (and contrary to what seems to be popular belief, Somalia does NOT have a Libertarian government). Feel free to cast your next vote in support of this experiment!

    Meanwhile, why don’t you look at all the vast data regarding the failures of big government. Or do you really believe the answer to every government failure is MORE government? “If only they would spend more money and restrict more freedoms, eventually they will get it right!!”

    • tmac57 says:

      Well if Libertarians are totally convinced that they have the best ideas, then you all need to get out there and do the leg work to sway tens of millions of like minded folk to go along with you .You need to have a viable party that can win the seats in government to enact the changes that you espouse here. That’s how it’s done.But, I can tell you that most of the arguments that I have seen here are either unconvincing or outright insulting to people who don’t already agree with you. If you think you can win hearts and minds by belittling others, then good luck with that.

      • Peter says:

        Oh, good point…I’ll start eating shit immediately! 100 billion flies can’t be wrong!

      • Simon says:

        Pathetic response, Peter.

        It’s as if you were so desperate to make a lame quip, you wilfully misinterpreted tmac57′s point.

      • tmac57 says:

        So,Peter,you are not a fan of democracy? Maybe you would prefer a Libertarian overthrow of the U.S.A. Please tell us how you would change the world to your belief system.

  33. SImon says:

    I’d like to see a Libertarian state so I could enter my children into voluntary labour contracts in order to supplement my income without Big Government sticking its nose where it isn’t welcome.

    Also, right now I have to pay my maid minimum wage. That’s not fair. I should be free to bargain that rate down to the lowest she will accept, which I think would be pretty low, as she needs this job real bad. But hey, there are plenty of others who would do it for a pittance! Maybe I could get a kid to do it for less. In fact, I’m sure I could. Oh why can’t I live in this Utopia of my choosing? It’s NOT FAIR.

  34. Sabio says:

    Skeptics can be liberal, conservatives, marxsits, libertarians, anarchists etc… I agree that redistributionists tend to predominate skeptics, and that is fine. But please don’t assume that all intelligent skeptics must be like you.

    We have a new Libertarian Skeptics web site. Come and contribute.

  35. Mike B. says:

    I have often observed that people tend to hold political beliefs in the same way that they hold religious beliefs: both tend to be based on faith. My own political beliefs lean toward the libertarian socialist label, but I freely admit that there isn’t much (ok…there isn’t any) evidence in favour of that position. Is this so very hard to admit?

    We skeptics would be better off were we to understand that our political positions are utterly irrelevant.

    • db0 says:

      oth tend to be based on faith. My own political beliefs lean toward the libertarian socialist label, but I freely admit that there isn’t much (ok…there isn’t any) evidence in favour of that position.

      There is actually empirical evidence that libertarian socialism creates a better society. You should read up on the Spanish revolution.

    • The danger with relegating political positions to irrelevancy is that your fellows may adopt political positions based on fallacious reasoning and may begin to engage in behavior which could just jeopardize your health and welfare.

      I implore everyone reading this to understand,

      Scientific skepticism isn’t just about debunking UFOs, quack medicine and the like, it is a metaphysical, epistemological and even ethical philosophical framework.

      Scientific skepticism may not be a complete philosophical framework, and probably ought to be part of a “well balanced diet” of philosophical expression, but it is what it is and to pretend otherwise is denial. If the good (scientific) skeptic cannot bring the tools of objective metaphysics, logic and honesty to the discussion of politics, then I guarantee politics will be lost to the relativist, or to the irrational or to the dishonest.

    • Take this particular discussion thread as an opportunity to practice bringing the method of scientific skepticism to the realm of politics where it is badly needed.

      I currently support the assertion that George Carlin saw “bullshit politics” everywhere he looked because rational people of good faith mistakenly gave up the realm of politics because they believed that politics was irrelevant. Politics is not an irrelevant topic to the rational citizen acting in good faith.

    • kabol says:

      I have often observed that people tend to hold political beliefs in the same way that they hold religious beliefs: both tend to be based on faith…Is this so very hard to admit?

      not hard for me to admit. i’m skeptical about politics in general. lying, no good SOBs for the most part, i don’t care what their party line reads or what promises they make.

      then again, WYSIWYG.

      shrug.

  36. Anthony O'Neal says:

    I’ll just leave it to George Carlin:

    “One of the more pretentious political self-descriptions is ‘Libertarian.’ People think it puts them above the fray. It sounds fashionable, and to the uninitiated, faintly dangerous. Actually, it’s just one more bullshit political philosophy.”

    • Anthony O'Neal says:

      BTW, I don’t think we should have all these political posts in the skepticblog. Politics is vulgar, and usually based on irrationality. Skeptics are supposed to be above this.

      • Sark says:

        That’s simply ridiculous. Vulgar? Politics is life. Politics is the process of determining who gets what, when, and how. We should just ignore that? It’s impossible for skeptics to be “above this”, because it is all around us.

      • For this reason, skeptics ought to be more invested in political discussion instead of leaving it to the relativist, the irrational or to the dishonest.

  37. epicurus says:

    Dr. Shermer,
    You are entitled to be a libertarian and to promote it religiously. That is your freedom of belief and freedom of expression. You are also the ‘chief’ skeptic and a social scientist so I expect you to be at least skeptical of your own political belief and to use science to test it. Sadly you do not apply the same skepticism in libertarianism as in other subjects and you use philosophy not science to justify it. Why do I say your approach is philosophical? Because you start with a premise: Principle of Freedom: All people are free to think, believe, and act as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the equal freedom of others. Then you make another premise: government violates the Principle of Freedom by infringing on the following essentials to freedom:

    1. The rule of law.
    2. Property rights.
    3. Economic stability through a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system.
    4. A reliable infrastructure and the freedom to move about the country.
    5. Freedom of speech and the press.
    6. Freedom of association.
    7. Mass education.
    8. Protection of civil liberties.
    9. A robust military for protection of our liberties from attacks by other states.
    10. A potent police force for protection of our freedoms from attacks by other people within the state.
    11. A viable legislative system for establishing fair and just laws.
    12. An effective judicial system for the equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws.

    From these premises, you conclude that libertarianism is the answer to avoid infringement in all of the above. You may be right or wrong about your premises and conclusion. I’m not in a position to judge that but the scientific method is to start with these 12 essentials to freedom and examine how they actually operate in societies, what are the problems, and formulate hypotheses on how to best provide these ‘freedoms’ to all citizens. The best ‘solutions’ may be unique to particular societies, and may or may not be libertarianism. Until you have done that, you are discussing philosophy here without much skepticism.

    Here’s some skepticism to probe into this. You have mentioned a lot of problems with government like being too big that it becomes bureaucratic and inefficient, being corrupt, being dictatorial, etc. What is the alternative? Replace government with private entities (corporations). Are corporations immune to the same problems with government? Are corporations incapable of becoming big, bureaucratic and inefficient? Are corporations incorruptible? Are corporations less dictatorial? What’s the difference between government and corporation anyway? They are both big organizations. One is accountable to voters, the other to stockholders, which is often dominated by institutional investors and rich families and individuals. One has the power to tax or force people to pay, monopolist corporations can do that too. Why is government so bad and corporations so good? Or is it? I suggest you read the website of Henry Mintzberg, a distinguished management guru. He has a lot of disrespectful things to say about Corporate America, which makes me think, is the US government worse?

    Best,

    • Peter says:

      You confuse “scientism” with science. The scientific method you advocate simply isn’t applicable in this instance – you can’t control or be aware of all the variables, so your results would be utterly meaningless. You don’t use that method to attempt to prove that 1+1=2, do you? Never see mathematicians going around counting things and saying “yep, once again, one and one made two! More evidence that the theory is correct!!”. And if you met a mathematician who told you he counted two ones of something and came up with seven, which would you believe: that 1+1=7 sometimes, or that the mathematician had counted wrong? Same with economics: if you find “evidence” that, e.g., the theory of decreasing marginal utility is wrong, then you’re either misinterpreting the evidence, you’ve made a mistake, or you’ve ignored some variable that has changed. And if you apply correct economics to whatever ideas you hold about how you’d like the world to be, you’ll necessarily be a libertarian (unless you’re some evil bastard that wants suffering and misery for most people…in which case you’ll be a communist)

      • Chris says:

        ” And if you apply correct economics to whatever ideas you hold about how you’d like the world to be, you’ll necessarily be a libertarian”

        What constitutes “correct” economics? I’m guessing it’s those which are consistent with libertarianism? Pure economics – those which are completely detached from the reality of having to deal with human nature and society?

        Let me try to break down your argument a little. You’ve basically just said, if you espouse correct economics (“correct” according to you, I assume), then you have to be libertarian, therefore if you’re not libertarian, you’re wrong. That’s a great line of argument.

        I’d suggest your mathematical analogy is flawed too. 1+1 does equal 2. It’s been proven using maths (with a proof a couple of pages long if I remember correctly). A better analogy would be the debate currently raging in deep earth geology: Are hot spot plumes generated at the core mantle boundary, or at a shallower depth, such as the upper-lower mantle boundary? Papers are coming out supporting each hypothesis because the problem isn’t as simple as 1+1=2. It’s complex, relying on several disciplines of science, and lacking evidence to nail the hypothesis down to a theory. Economics is not as simple as 1+1=2. Maybe the basics are, but applying economic theory to society requires tweaking and relying on several other disciplines.

      • db0 says:

        Economics is not as simple as 1+1=2. Maybe the basics are

        Unfortunately, Not even the basics (of neoclassiclal economics) are right, but rather based on a priori assumptions and “as if” theories.

      • Peter says:

        Pure economics – those which are completely detached from the reality of having to deal with human nature and society?

        Economics is (a subdivision of) the science of human action…how can you have human action detached from human nature and society? You can’t. Economics is completely attached to human nature.

        Let me try to break down your argument a little. You’ve basically just said, if you espouse correct economics (”correct” according to you, I assume), then you have to be libertarian, therefore if you’re not libertarian, you’re wrong. That’s a great line of argument.

        No, I didn’t say that. Assume, for the sake of argument, that you have undeniable proof that if you do A, P will result, if you B, Q will result, etc. This is what economics is about – all it’s concerned with the causality: if you do A, you get P, and so on. It doesn’t have anything to say about how to compare Q vs P, in order to say that one outcome is “better than” the other. But let’s say P is the death of 20 million people and Q is everyone experiences a small improvement in their lives. Economics can’t tell us that Q is preferred to P. In fact, there are probably people for whom P is preferred to Q. But most people, and certainly the people that we don’t generally classify as either evil or insane, will say that P is a terrible thing and Q much preferred. I have little doubt you are in that category. But there’s nothing to say you have to be. Now, if you apply correct economics (not “according to me”, or “consistent with libertarianism”; correct means “consistent with logic applied to human action/nature in the world we live in”), you arrive at results P and Q, and you prefer Q to P, then it only makes sense to prefer action B (which results in Q) to action A (which results in P). And the political position consistent with the results that most people claim to prefer is, in fact, libertarianism. E.g., You somehow have the power to choose whether socialism or capitalism will predominate in your society. You want to help the poor. If you understand economics, you must choose libertarianism!

        I’d suggest your mathematical analogy is flawed too. 1+1 does equal 2. It’s been proven using maths

        And various statements in economics can be proven using praxeology, exactly as 1+1=2 is provable in mathematics.

      • Chris says:

        “And various statements in economics can be proven using praxeology, exactly as 1+1=2 is provable in mathematics.”

        True as that maybe, you’re not arguing with such a simple variables. Saying, for example, “privatising education = better, cheaper education for everyone”, or A results in P, is not, under any circumstances, simple. A may cause P and Q, R, S, T and U, not all of which are positive (Q for example could be 20% of the population will be too poor to afford basic education). B may not cause Q, or P but may cause R, S, T, U and V, (V being that everyone had to pony up to the tax man so society benefits from an educated populace). The net result of which is that B is preferred over A for most people.

        A and B may not be as extreme as “the death of 20 million people” and “everyone experiences a small improvement in their lives”, but the trade off maybe such that more people prefer B over A. Just because you are of the opinion that A is better for everyone, doesn’t mean it is, or that people automatically have to agree with you because it’s logical by some metric.

        I used to be a libertarian. And that’s not in the style of “I used to be an atheist”, because I understand the reasoning behind libertarianism. I’ve read Rand, I’ve subscribed to libertarian magazines and I’ve even voted libertarian. Then I moved out of home and experienced the real world, and found the libertarianism is simply incompatible with reality.

        And one of the major problems I found with libertarians is exactly what you’re displaying: a religious-like adherence to the idea that total freedom is sacred, a disregard or thought for those who may not survive in such a system, and oversimplification upon oversimplification in regard to how things work.

        If libertarianism was the superior system. If it made the most sense. If people truly believed they’d be better off in such a system, then why don’t libertarians get voted into power? Why don’t large numbers of people agree with you, Peter?

      • Peter says:

        You’re changing the argument. What I’m saying is not that people really prefer the results of A over B. They really do prefer the results of B. Or at least, they say they do. They just refuse to acknowledge the causation.

        If libertarianism was the superior system. If it made the most sense. If people truly believed they’d be better off in such a system, then why don’t libertarians get voted into power?

        If there’s no god, why do most people go to church? Don’t ask me; I don’t go to church. As for getting voted into power, that’s easy: libertarians (the real ones) don’t run. (I’m not saying they’d win if they did, just pointing out that anarchists don’t run for political office)

        Why don’t large numbers of people agree with you, Peter?

        Largely because most people are “feelers”, and the socialists seem to have managed to convinced everyone that they have the moral high ground somehow. Of course, public education has a lot to do with it, too (the people who instituted public education weren’t shy about admitting that that was the reason the wanted it; no conspiracy theory there). Large numbers of people were libertarian in more enlightened times … that’s why the US exists at all.

      • Chris says:

        What I’m saying is not that people really prefer the results of A over B. They really do prefer the results of B. Or at least, they say they do. They just refuse to acknowledge the causation.

        Or, rather, the causation isn’t really an issue. B is the outcome, A seems less beneficial while the two are morally equivalent, therefore B it is.

        Largely because most people are “feelers”, and the socialists seem to have managed to convinced everyone that they have the moral high ground somehow.

        If that’s the case, even if it’s that way by artificial means, would you feel just and right in forcing people to be libertarians, even if they didn’t want it? And if not, how can you seriously propose libertarianism as a realistic possibility?

        As for getting voted into power, that’s easy: libertarians (the real ones) don’t run.

        So they care so little about everyone else’s liberties being stripped away that they wouldn’t even play by the current rules to liberate them? Sounds like the perfect kind of people to have voluntarily donating to solving society’s ills: those who don’t even want to put in the effort to solve them now.

      • intepid says:

        Chris said: “Sounds like the perfect kind of people to have voluntarily donating to solving society’s ills: those who don’t even want to put in the effort to solve them now.”

        Oh, snap!

        Peter said: “Large numbers of people were libertarian in more enlightened times … that’s why the US exists at all.”

        I don’t think the US really owes its current form/existence to libertarian ideals, since that would go against the concept of a union at all (what kind of libertarian society would go to war to prevent secession?). And until the red scare your motto was “e pluribus unum”, which is about as un-libertarian as it gets.

      • intepid says:

        It’s like you remember the “No taxation…” part but forget the qualifier: “…without representation”

      • Peter says:

        If that’s the case, even if it’s that way by artificial means, would you feel just and right in forcing people to be libertarians, even if they didn’t want it? And if not, how can you seriously propose libertarianism as a realistic possibility?

        I don’t know what “forcing people to be libertarians” means. Forcing people not to engage in violence? Sure. (If people in Nazi Germany thought it was a good idea to kill Jews, even if it’s that way by artificial means, is it OK to stop the killing?) They can believe whatever they want – they can be Nazis if they want – but it’s OK to stop them initiating violence against innocents. If you call that “forcing them to be libertarians”, then, yes, it’s OK to force them to be libertarians. (Personally, I’d only consider them libertarians if they believed they should refrain from violence, not merely by their actions)

      • Peter says:

        what kind of libertarian society would go to war to prevent secession?

        It wouldn’t. They went to war to secede (from Britain, don’t ya know)! The first step away from the libertarian foundations of the US was the Constitution (essentially a coup d’etat). Lincoln just added the final touches.

      • intepid says:

        So you are a troll.

        The war I was referring to was the Civil War, as I’m sure you were aware.

        The War of independence was brought about because of the lack of representation I mentioned a few comments prior.

        So you make no valid argument, but at least you implicitly acknowledge that Lincoln would have regarded Libertarians as selfish jerks.

      • Peter says:

        Yes, I know you meant the so-called “Civil War” (which wasn’t one); but I never said that was libertarian, so what was your point in bringing it up?

      • Science is dependent upon both the experimentalist (empiricist) and the theorist. Though the modern scientist has learned to take philosophy for granted, they are as dependent upon a solid philosophical framework as is any other professional such as the doctor, lawyer or politician. Where would today’s scientist be without Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper, or even Aristotle? (Should T.S. Kuhn be included here as well?) An actionable, “real world” philosophical framework must be as correct and complete as possible. Who better to address cohesive philosophy than today’s rational scientist who lives by tempering what they know with an honest appraisal of what they have observed?

  38. “If [the skeptical/humanist movement] were [politically neutral], there would be roughly a 50/50 split of liberals and conservatives.”
    Stop right there. You’re apparently assuming that:
    1) being neutral means you will equally attract people from all over the ideological spectrum. Yet science for example is neutral to religious ideas, but the proportion of atheist scientists has nothing to do with the proportion of atheists in the rest of the population.
    2) there are as many liberals as conservatives. That in itself depends on how you define each, as well as when, where and how you measure them.
    If there is one thing in common between these three posts, it’s such flawed and unsubstantiated reasoning that I find surprising coming from someone who is a leader of the skeptical movement.

  39. epicurus says:

    So libertarianism is a mathematical certainty and if you’re not a libertarian, you’re a communist evil bastard. Libertarianism is the Truth. No further debate needed. Skepticism does not apply here. You’re infallible. You put the Pope to shame.

    • Peter says:

      “So arithmetic is a mathematical certainty blah blah, no further debate needed, skepticism does not apply here. You’re infallible. You put the Pope to shame.”

      Economics is certain, not “libertarianism”. Libertarianism is simply the result of applying correct economics to what you claim you want. Do you doubt that there is such a thing as objective reality, epicurus? I think you must.

    • kabol says:

      epicurus, you exaggerate too much.

      a little bit will go a long way.

      like this: oh, you’re not biased, epi – not at all.

  40. Douglas says:

    Atheists as a block almost exclusively vote for liberal candidates, the more liberal, the greater the tilt to the left.

    I think that the primary reason has less to do with the actual ideology of liberty that seems, to me, fundamental in Atheism and informed skepticism, but more of a lack of faith in people who do not think like them.

    “We can’t trust these idealistic neaderthals, we must seize power and show them how right we are.”

    I’m very much on in the sphere of michael shermers opinion of liberty being libertarian, but in what is essentially a 2 party system, you have to find the side that you trust.

    In 1992, the “liberal” candidate was the best choice (GHWB was not a good president) and he had to balance his just barely left of center political ideaology with the political reality of the slightly more right of center political ideals of the “republican revolution,” (gingrich is quite a bit to the right of center, but gingrich was not representative of the whole group) and in the process, we had a very good chance at governance.

    In 2K there were no “good” choices, same in 2004 yet in 2004 we had a horse and a stream so we didn’t change him.

    Now we changed, ,and in the process, moved too far left of center, and as the axiom says about power, what is happening now is very worriesome, and there are, in essense, no checks interfering with the power of the legislature and the executive monolith.

    Politics, Especially Politics, can’t be focused into a title, though I will admit, I’m largely republican, not because I’m locked into what many think of as republican, but because, When I was in middle school and we had a mock election, and I “voted” for regan, a teacher became mean spirited.

    There are very few republicans who are cruel about disagreements, for a great deal of the left (including this president) it’s the basic method of operation. Intimidation and discreditation by any means.

    I’m with Penn Gillette, we need someone with standing and not tainted by the other parties to create a center party, that won’t compromise left or right, but stay on the road to liberty and freedom.

    • Simon says:

      “…I will admit, I’m largely republican, not because I’m locked into what many think of as republican, but because, When I was in middle school and we had a mock election, and I “voted” for regan, a teacher became mean spirited.”

      Really? That’s your main reason for being a republican? A reaction against a middle school teacher?

      “There are very few republicans who are cruel about disagreements, for a great deal of the left (including this president) it’s the basic method of operation. Intimidation and discreditation by any means.”

      You’re making a hopelessly broad statement here, and I doubt you would be able to even begin to substantiate such a claim. It would be far easier to paint Republicans in that light. For a start, one could look to those loyal Republicans at Palin’s rallies who were basically calling out for Obama’s head, labelling him a traitor and a terrorist.

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        The extremely political active (and more likely to attend these events) are always the fundamentalists of their respective movements.

        This is true of both parties and both parties use their respective group’s fears to fund their campaign and wishes to control the other part of society that does not agree with them.

  41. badrescher says:

    I am shocked to find so few voices of reason when it comes to this topic. I’m beginning to wonder if Libertarians are not more hated in this country than atheists!

    It is very, very sad to read comments with so little thought, so little logic, and so much anger.

    For the record, I do not identify with any political party, but I have witnessed so much venom among skeptics & atheists when it comes to Libertarian vs. Liberal politics that I am starting to realize that it is completely irrational.

    What I have noticed is that Liberals seem to be the angry ones; Libertarians also seem to be much more open-minded and rational.

    I am glad you are standing up for and speaking out about this political conviction, despite the rift and the comments.

  42. CLS says:

    I find most of what you say correct but would differ with how to say it. For instance, as I see it there are two main principles to libertarian, or classical liberal, thinking. One is respect for others and the second is the requirement that all interactions be peaceful. Respect for others means we allow others to make mistakes, that we grant them autonomy over their own life and property. It may mean even allowing them to make mistakes. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to persuade them to correct the mistakes. But in the end it must grant others the right to be wrong.

    Everyone wants to give the liberty to be right, by which they mean, to do what they would do if they were you. But only libertarians grant the right to be wrong, that is the right to do something we would advise against.

    And the issue of peace means that we don’t use force or violence against others. So if someone is wrong we don’t initiate force or violence against them in order to make them change their ways. I don’t think requires pacifism, which would mean the non-defense of one’s own life and property. But it does mean we don’t initiate these things.

    Our socialist brothers went bad when they thought the way to achieve liberal ends (which we both agree upon) was through conservative means (the use of state power). Liberals (that is libertarians) believe that ends and means should be consistent with one another.

    In the end I respect the choices that others wish to make, even when I disagree with them. I won’t use force against them to change their minds or to “save them” from themselves. I will use force to protect myself only. And I won’t request that the state do what I don’t have the right to do myself — which is initiate violence or force against others.

    I believe libertarianism, properly understood, is humane, peaceful and respectful. It is treating others as ends in themselves and engaging only in acts of peaceful cooperation with others. I am surprised that others would act any other way.

    • Simon says:

      CLS, the problem I have with the version of Libertarianism that you and others present is that it oversimplifies matters by boiling them down to a simple picture of free will vs force and violence.

      Things can cause harm without necessarily involving force or violence. Do you not see that the system you propose widens the door for the exploitation of others? Or does the exploitation of others fall under the mantle of allowing others – in this case, the party being exploited – to make their own mistakes?

      OK, fine. Let’s suppose that, under your Libertarian system, I bring out a new snack – let’s call it “Carcinochoos!” It’s a tasty snack (it tastes like smoked bacon!), and people willingly buy it. However, after it has been on the market for a while, members of the scientific community issue warnings that there’s strong evidence to suggest that my Carcinochoos may lead to cancer.

      Well, what’s a poor freedom-loving guy to do? I immediately throw large chunks of my considerable income into buying up all research and burying it (all done through mutually agreed contracts), and launch a prolonged, carefully constructed advertising campaign that, through catchy slogans and an abundance of misinformation, manages to seed enough doubt in the minds of the consumer base regarding the claims made by the scientists (and luckily there aren’t many of them, as the general populace didn’t much feel like giving grant money to science over the last decade) to ensure that the majority of the market continues to buy my product.

      Excellent. My product is still selling nicely. I’m not forcing anyone. There’s no violence here. And the Government isn’t going to stick its nose in, because we got rid of all that Government interference long ago. Phew! Crisis averted.

      And boy, don’t the kids just love it! But hey, they’re free to make their own mistakes – even if they don’t realize they’re making them!

      • Peter says:

        These kinds of arguments are silly. How can you “buy up all research”? And why would you want to kill your own customers, anyway? You’re looking at things through statist glasses. These kinds of things happen now, in the statist system…ask yourself how government regulation helps those companies!

      • Simon says:

        How can you “buy up all research”?

        I go to the relevant research facility, I find the person/persons in charge, and I throw money at them until they agree to stop the research or, better yet, grant me exclusive rights to the results.

        And why would you want to kill your own customers, anyway?

        You might as well ask why cigarette companies want to kill their own customers. Why do drug dealers want to kill their own customers? I mean, duh. New customers are being born all the time. Besides which, maybe I’m chasing a short-term profit. Or maybe I simply don’t like people. Come on, Peter! How can you ask such a naive and pointless question? Is this the kind of simple thinking that Libertarianism is founded upon – the idea that a company would never do anything that might harm its customers?

        These kinds of things happen now, in the statist system.

        Well, at least the statist system effectively makes people aware of the dangers of smoking, for example, while still giving adults the right to engage in it. Not only that, but it attempts to prevent the sale of cigarettes to children (though no doubt those kids – or their parents – should be gloriously free to make their own mistakes, yadda yadda).

      • Points well taken. A functioning capitalist society, which does depend on a coercive government of some kind to function, may be entrusted to enforce scientific honesty through any number of ex post and ex ante legal means. In order to freely engage others in capitalist trade, the case can be made that I must be given appropriate information to make a properly informed trade. The degree to which the government interferes to enforce scientific honesty would be a matter of balancing the trade-offs of economic cost, impact on freedom, efficiency, due process and all other moral and ethical issues you can name.

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        Yes – and most libertarians believe in things like going to jail for fraud. Why you seem to believe libertarianism is anarchism is beyond me, but mini-state and no-state are not the same thing. You are giving a false dichomty of a straw men, then proceed to throw matches.

        & follow that up, but explaining how enlightened you are… odd

      • Iris says:

        Why would you want to kill your own customers? Maybe you should ask the tobacco companies.

      • Peter says:

        I go to the relevant research facility, I find the person/persons in charge, and I throw money at them until they agree to stop the research

        And there’s only one research facility? And you have infinite money? How?

        You might as well ask why cigarette companies want to kill their own customers. Why do drug dealers want to kill their own customers? I mean, duh. New customers are being born all the time. Besides which, maybe I’m chasing a short-term profit

        Oh; you’re talking about what happens under statism? I thought you were supposed to be talking about what is likely under libertarianism. Tobacco companies behave the way they do today because of regulation.

      • Simon says:

        Peter wrote: And there’s only one research facility? And you have infinite money? How?

        I don’t have infinite sums of money. However I do have very large sums due to my wildly successful Carcinochoos product.

        If I find myself unable to buy out all the researchers, I can always hire a few stooges myself to muddy the waters some more. White coats are cheap enough.

        Simon wrote: You might as well ask why cigarette companies want to kill their own customers. Why do drug dealers want to kill their own customers? I mean, duh. New customers are being born all the time. Besides which, maybe I’m chasing a short-term profit

        Peter responded: Oh; you’re talking about what happens under statism? I thought you were supposed to be talking about what is likely under libertarianism.

        That’s a poor attempt at a dodge, Peter. As I said, new customers are being born all the time. Why should I be particularly concerned if a certain percentage of my market kicks the bucket? So long as there are still plenty of customers, and so long as they don’t realise (or don’t care) that my product is responsible, why should I be concerned? Come on, tell me why. Tell me why a drug dealer in a Libertarian system will suddenly become concerned about the long-term health of his individual customers, rather than just mining the consumer base as a renewable resource?

        Peter wrote: Tobacco companies behave the way they do today because of regulation.

        Can you expand upon that? Under a Libertarian system, would tobacco companies stop selling their product? Again, why?

      • Chris says:

        Tobacco companies behave the way they do today because of regulation.

        Regulation is the reason tobacco companies had to stop advertising and selling to children. You seem to throw out regulation as this all-encompassing boogie man that stifles everything. It’s an oversimplified, idealistic view and it’s simply wrong.

      • Alex says:

        Substantiate the bold claim that most cigarette companies want to “kill their customers.”

        Show me the pdf documents which explicitly claim that. And bear in mind I am not interested in any anecdotal interpretation of what you “think” the tobacco companies want.

        Bear in mind, I am not interested in your own interpretations of a report…. just show me the actual report where the company has claimed they want to kill their customers.

        Offering a product that has side effects is not the same as wanting to kill them. Nor is suppressing that information a valid deduction to substantiate the claim that they want to kill their customers. It is an admission that they are dishonest and do not go out of their way to point out the shortcomings in their companies product. But it proves no claim that they are trying to kill people.

        Demand the moral imperative that a company not misrepresent their product. I think you will find few who disagree. But just don’t be dishonest about it and construct a patently false argument like the claim that tobacco companies want to kill people. That’s simply a blatant lie.

  43. I am a libertarian conservative because it is and has been in my blood since childhood.

    Peace

  44. peterh says:

    I read the article a few times , looking for the “why”.All I came up with is “they tax me then waste it ” hmmmmm
    I want to know where is this Utopia for libertarians ? Has there ever been a successful one ? How does the market share the cake fairly ?.

    Disillusioned
    PS Intel worked the market nicely . Bully for them Freedom !!!!!!!!!!

    • g4m3th30ry says:

      Define “fair” – simply because you might not like the result does not mean it’s “unfair” in any sense of the word.

      This is part of the reason libertarians believe in a small government. Because when that government goes through the motions to define things like “fair” and attempt to enforce policies to keep things “fair” they will fail as they are fallible.

      & even if someone a magic politician were to come along and actually put policies into place that you believe is more “fair”, please remember that the government that has this power is the same government that tomorrow can change the definition of “fair”.

      That is a flaw of this system of “equality” & “fairness”.

  45. David Michael Myers says:

    I want to make just one point. I think a lot of people just don’t get it on the “gay-marriage” concept.

    I am a full-fledged libertarian. I have been for over sixty years. I am not a johnny-come-lately. And I believe in full freedom, not a watered-down “conservative” or “liberal” version.

    Why do “gay-marriage” advocates insist on calling a civil union a marriage?

    Why do they want to re-define the word marriage that has been around for thousands of years as meaning a union between a man and a woman?

    To me that is the point.

    I have no objection at all to two (or even three or more) consenting adults’ living together and practicing whatever they want to practice. Just don’t corrupt the word “marriage.”

    I don’t want political advocates re-defining words that have long-established meanings, meanings that were established in the “market-place of ideas and concepts.”

    I also object to the perversion of the word “gay.”

    In my ancient dictionary it means: (1) joyous and lively; merry; happy; light-hearted. (2) brilliant; bright: as gay colors. (3) given to social life and pleasures: as a gay life; hence, (4) wanton; licentious: as a gay dog. — SYN see lively

    There is no mention of sexual perversion. Is it because homosexuals wish to be considered just as “mainstream” as any heterosexual? How come?

    Call such unions whatever you want to call them, but don’t usurp the word “marriage.” Such unions are not marriages. They are unions, co-habitations. No matter what one thinks, marriages were invented by churches, not governments. Let governments invent their own terms.

    • Peter says:

      The word “marriage” has always been used of marriages in polygamous societies, etc.; the word hasn’t been around for thousands of years, and the concept long predates the (presumably Christian) church (or any religion that is still recognized today. I.e., wasn’t invented by churches…or by governments, either)

    • Sark says:

      “Why do they want to re-define the word marriage that has been around for thousands of years as meaning a union between a man and a woman?”
      Well, not to nitpick, but that’s definitely not true. Polygamy was and is widely practiced. Polyandry too.

      Since I’m assuming that you’re a Christian, I have a fun exercise for you: go find in the Bible where it says that polygamy is verboten. If it’s so bad, it shouldn’t be hard to find a clear and absolute condemnation of the practice.

      You’re whole argument boils down to: we’ve been doing the same thing for a really long time, and (from my perspective) it’s working out just fine, so why do you all want to change it?

      The answer is that a) I don’t care how long a practice has been practiced. “traditional Chinese medicine” has been around for a really long time, doesn’t mean it’s not BS. b)I don’t agree that it’s been working fine as it is, that’s why I want to change it.

  46. Roy Edmunds says:

    I follow Shermers argument on this issue. He seems to elude the convenient pigeon holing people cling to in their endeavours to understand where people stand on issues. Good.You are then faced with the task of analyzing each position he takes on its merits.
    Only one thing would I alter. Number 10. A Police force which enforces the law and engages in the prevention and detection of crime in accordance with the rule of law.
    And 12. A Judicial system which passes judgement on evidence under the “innocent until proven guilty” principle and metes out penalties in accordance with the rule of law.
    The separation of state and church, of Government and the Judiciary, of Judiciary and the Police, of Police and Government is important.

    Ultimately, once an individual citizen has paid their dues and abides by the rule of law their freedom should be inviolate.
    And whats more there should be adequate opportunity to challenge any decisions made by Government by any individual through Ombudsmen or the courts and finally en mass by election.
    Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world.

  47. David Michael Myers says:

    If “libertarianism” and Austrian-School economics upsets all the collectivist/communist/Marxist/socialist, pointy-headed, so-called “liberals,” just wait until you get to:

    INDIVIDUAL SOVEREIGNTY !

    The Sovereign Individual is coming soon to liberate bodies, minds, and souls!

    Talk about “self-government”! Let’s carry it to its logical conclusion.

    There is no reason that each and every individual who chooses to do so should not control his own life completely, TOTALLY ! No “supreme” authority having sovereignty over everyone living in his territory.

    Think about it, sheeple!

    • db0 says:

      No “supreme” authority having sovereignty over everyone living in his territory.

      Landlords in general are a “supreme” authority that has sovereignity over everyone living in their territory.

      Capitalists in general are a “supreme” authority that has sovereignity over everyone working in their property.

      So, Fail?

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        My employer does not hold any authority over me that I haven’t willingly given it by taking the wage they pay me. I’m sure you’ll likely call this deluded and point me to another Noam Chomsky speech on the evils of advertising, but my employer does not “owe” me anything at all. I can leave anytime I feel the need and start my own business if I wish.

  48. William Patrick Haines says:

    First government does not have a monopoly on tyranny . The workers the consumers, and environment need and deserve protection from the ravages of unrestrained capitalism .Also since the modern economic system is based on interdependence the concept of rugged individualism is ridiculous and it’s chief adherents are some survivalist crackpots like the unibomber yes since genuine self sufficiency / reliance is next to impossible in a modern interdependent system you need a safety net. The wealthy already have their safety net and are any thing but rugged individualist these baby hueies call their safety inheritance
    No matter what entity is in place you are not going to receive vital services for free . Also without government certain people would not receive services . Also the sales tax would hurt the poor more so than the dreaded income tax. Also polishing the halos of businessmen while sharpening the horns of government is definitely a fantasy prone day dreaming idealistic individual lost in their own personal twilight zone. I can not think of any great thinker that was a complete lazy fair capitalist even Adam Smith was against monopolies and corporate welfare.
    Libertarianism would not work in this world or any other with similar laws of reality would not and would collapse like a house of cards in a hurricane . The authors of this warped and rambling pseudo scientific philosophy must have their reality checks bounce like a pinball in play in the Who’s rock opera Tommy. In fact they seem to be far more senseless with no special ability except the greatest imitation of Emperor in “the Emperor’s new clothes ” . Before any ones goes spoting off about lazy fare libertarian utopeia crack open the history book and look at the explotation the workers had to endure in nineteenthe and early twenieth centuries and how polluted the air and water was and all the homeless people starving to death in the streets.

    • Again, big “L” Libertarian is a democratic political party which by definition must support the form of government (democratic) it is hosted within (i.e., Libertarians vote). The Libertarian also believes in the rule of law and coercive protections for the various aspects of individual sovereignty. Equating “law of the jungle” with modern Libertarianism is a false comparison.

      Moreover, laissez faire capitalism is also not “rule of the jungle” as it depends upon the protections of a coercive state in order to function effectively. The laissez faire capitalist however supports a complete separation of economics and state. In this respect a true laissez faire capitalist experiment has probably never been tried on a large scale. One may argue however that, since its success depends upon the efficacy of a coercive state, such an experiment may in fact never be practical. Laissez faire capitalism is anything but “lazy fare” as it requires adherence to a moral and ethical code, protection of individual sovereignty and indeed effort and risk on the part of the individual in order to function properly.

  49. David Michael Myers says:

    As a electrician/engineer/physicist, I conclude that “db0″ appears to measure about 999 Tera-ohms, ear-to-ear. In other words, an open circuit. Nothing seems to stick nor be subject to comprehension.
    *********************************

    • db0 says:

      As a programmer/tech support I conclude that David Michael Myers appers not to be able to compile. In other words, he does not understand the arguments laid before him.

  50. David Michael Myers says:

    Collectivist/communist/Marxist/socialist, pointy-headed, so-called “liberals,” have almost ZERO imaginative powers! It seems that they can’t figure out three sequential steps in a row without error.

    If only they had individualist genes vice collectivist genes.

  51. David Michael Myers says:

    The indomitable human spirit and desire for individual freedom of our beleaguered entrepreneurs is the only thing that keeps the collectivist/communist/Marxist/socialist, pointy-headed, so-called “liberals,” from starving and freezing to death in the dark!

    • Sark says:

      Ever heard of George Soros? I think it’s a safe bet that he is neither a collectivists, communists, marxist, socialist, or pointy-headed. He is a liberal, however. (so am I). And I’m willing to bet that this particular liberal has kept more people from “starving and freezing to death” than all the tea-partiers combined.

      • Damned good point!

        I have read George Soros’ philosophical and political views on many occasion and they seem attractive on the surface. I often wonder however, how intellectually honest he actually is. Does George Soros support actions which are actually antithetical to his stated point of view of promoting an “open society?” Is his philosophy correct and complete enough to be useful? Is, in fact, George Soros an honest man? I don’t currently know the answer to these questions to a satisfying degree of certainty though I continue to explore the questions through research and discussion.

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        George Soros spent tens of millions of dollars electing people who were actively campaigning to stop short selling (as if the practice itself caused the consequence… but I digress).

        So he is basically funding a system to make illegal one of the things he used to make his fortune. In his case, one very large bet made in short selling currencies was estimated to have made him a couple billion dollars.

        It’s the height of incongruence to deny people the very freedom he used to enrich himself.

        & just in case – no, I don’t care how rich he is or any other idiot like him.

      • Peter says:

        Funny thing. For all the lefties here saying “libertarians are all rich people who want to exploit the poor”, the opposite is always always true: rich people, such as Soros, can be relied upon to be socialists; very few poor people are socialists.

  52. TryLogic says:

    I have mentioned on this blog recently my concerns about the Skeptic community being biased to the left. I identify myself as a Freedomist…..a fiscal conservative and a moderate/liberal on social issues. I have been very active in charitable giving in my 40 years of “heartless capitalistic ventures” while watching government idiots blunder, lie, fail and steal.

    Michael’s explanations about his personal feelings about politics and society is a breath of fresh air. We live in a society that is contantly balancing between the extremes of Almighty Government and God while trying to preserve the freedoms are constitution guarantees.

    It has always seemed strange to me that a group of critical thinkers would be dominated by thinking that leans towards Marxist/Socialist ideology.

    I do believe that critical thinking is essential for everyone…regardless of political affiliation! I joined the Skeptics to try and learn better ways to keep religion out of our liberal democracy and protect our individual freedoms only to learn that we need to teach skeptics about the dangers of oppressive government…..something I thought critical thinkers would already know!

    Michael Shermer promotes a bigger tent that in time can bring more people to the best experience that has happened to me….to debate and discuss all issues based on science, facts and accurate historical data.

    His articles on Libertariansism clearly establishes why he is such an important figure in the critical thinking movement called Skepticism…whether one agrees with him on every point…or not!

    Sadly, many of the comments that keep coming in show what a difficult job the Skeptics have before them in accomplishing reasonable debate on important issues.

    I plan to be optimistic and support the Skeptic community….thanks to Michael Shermer!

    TryUsingLogic

    • @TryUsingLogic,

      Thank you for your comments here, and in Shermer’s previous post on this topic!

    • intepid says:

      “It has always seemed strange to me that a group of critical thinkers would be dominated by thinking that leans towards Marxist/Socialist ideology.”

      Pointless exaggeration makes this a straw man argument.

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        I’m not sure it’s a straw men to stay that many people on the left lean towards leftist ideologies. It’s seems rather logical, just as it is that that the right leans towards rightist ideologies.

        Naming the most recognizable versions of the extreme views of this thinking, but linking it with a verb like “leaning” doesn’t seem to be pointless exaggeration.

        Of course I’m biased as we all are :)

  53. Roy Edmunds says:

    David M.M.
    “..such unions are not marriages”
    well they are really. The definition of marriage (Collins dictionary) does make specific mention of man and woman but also alludes to ” a close or intimate union, relationship etc….” with no particular reference to man and woman.
    Yet, I understand your point to an extent. Homosexuality is a dysfunctional deviation tis true, but none the less since it exists amongst many other dysfunctional deviations which we embrace as part and parcel of the human condition we should have no problem in accepting and dealing with this one with good Christian tolerance if not the sheer realisation that these folk live and contribute as free citizens in a democratic country which recognises the needs of its individuals and where these needs pose no real threat to the well being of others they should be allowed.
    All relationships are complex. Hetero can be dysfunctional and deviant and damaging, though generally it is the accepted norm. Homosexual relationships can be damaging or exist for positive good though ‘dysfunctional’, but either marriage could be better or worse than the sum total of individual choices and the love that is part of that relationship.
    So how can we judge each other while consenting adults go about their daily lives in accordance with the requirement that as individuals we are not actively infringed in our own liberties and no innocent persons (such as children) are subjected to intimidation within such relationships. And even if they were the same laws apply as to hetero relationships where children may be at risk.
    Marriage, what the heck, let ‘em get married if thats what they want.
    But the definition of Father, Mother, son, daughter, will be challenged no doubt in the application for Government assistance, but I’m sure they can work it out. Not a problem really. New definitions like partner, or parent can appear on forms if they don’t already. ‘Wife’ and ‘husband’ are being phased out gradually. But it is only the terms. Fortunately the marriage of Mums and Dads is still the go, and will remain so for as long as the human race exists. But who said, ” there’s never been a kid brought up right yet”..

    • David Michael Myers says:

      I thought I made it clear that I think people can have any relationship with other people that they so desire and not receive any disapproval from me or others of like mind.

      I resent and disapprove of the courts’s being able to re-define words that have been in use for thousands of years with the stroke of a pen. This disrupts people’s lives, thoughts, understanding, etc.

      Let anyone live with anyone else, just don’t re-define words by “activist” judges who are not practicing law, but bullying by personal opinion. Just call it a “union,” not a marriage.

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        First – I don’t think the government should necessarily be involved in marriage at all, with the exception of enforcing the contract that is marriage. Not that they do that well, but as you might have noticed hyper active thinking pushes me around pretty well.

        Anyway, I do wonder why those most vocal about the separation of church & state are also the most vocal about taking a religious word and changing its definition.

        I would ask – why does it matter what it’s called so long as the same legal rights are conferred? The answer seems to be that they are looking for societal acceptance and not really any “rights”.

        That’s fine and they can certainly go this route, but it seems short sighted. If, like a friend of mine unable to see his partner when he was in the hospital because he wasn’t family, gets the right to do so because he certainly should have that right – does it matter what we call it?

        I would proffer the reason that it “matters” is for reasons other than civil rights.

        Disclaimer: I’ll do it one more time so I don’t get labeled a homophobe or whatever, but I don’t think the government should be involved at all except to protect contract rights that two, three, or seven individuals entered into for the purpose of becoming a union. I would submit that two very good friends who did not get married and have very little family should be able to make a union as well – that is give each other those legal rights such as seeing them in the hospital, automatic inheritance of the estate upon death (without a will), and all the other things that come along with it. These “unions” should also have adoption rights as we have way toooooo many kids needing adoptions versus the number of people willing to do so.

  54. William Patrick Haines says:

    It is very easy to talk about responsibility if you never had any major mishaps in your life and came from a privileged back ground. Yes some individuals have given some great amounts to charity that they were not obligated to do but they are a rarity and true charity is supposed to be anonymous and not self glorification .
    All this perversion of Darwinism will eventually lead to justification of wanton exploitation . And those fortunate fools that will tell all the welfare recipients to get a job have never experienced any hard times exception the rocks rattling around in their heads .Yes welfare is exploited but so is insurance but I see no genuine effort except tort reform which only takes way the right to address legitimate grievance .Notice libel is never mentioned in tort reform I have be called every name in the book including late too lunch .
    It never ceases to amaze me how all those rugged indivualist are the first to sue at the drop of a hat first to call the police first to get to the head of the of the line to go on one of those evil government programs like uneployment workman’s comp or welfare when times get as hard as their hearts and usually these pep rally patriots are first to get defrements and last if at all serve in the military .Also things are cheaper in this country because the population is high enough for mass distrbution to be profitable other counties the population is low so taxes and prices have to be higher to make up for the lower population . Also you pay taxes on ultilies that are not collected by the government but are pocketed by the corporation . So how would you trust the companies to be honest with a federal sales tax http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0315-08.htm
    http://www.amazon.com/U-S-Constitution-Everyone-Perigee-Book/dp/0399513051 I reccomend this book look on page 50 states taxiation based on population on the state really did not work out

    • g4m3th30ry says:

      How many philanthropists do anything to market their benevolence versus the number of philanthropists who are usually only talking in public about their charities when asking for donations?

      I would submit, and think with research you can probably prove it, that the benevolent rich and poor alike who give graciously to charities self promote less than ones who don’t do so.

  55. Jack says:

    This is gruesomely depressing to me…to use an analogy Libertarianism is to politics what fundamentalism is to religion. Far from libertarians being all that logical or freedom loving, the exposure to libertarianism I’ve had (pretty extensive here in the southeastern USA) reveals it to be a new cover for social conservatives who wish to exercise power as selfishly as possible while dressing it in fine sounding political language.

    After reading both the entries on the “other L word” and quite a lot of the commentary you seem to be drifting into idealistic language and a certainty of a future that people and systems will be uncomplicated and turn out just so. The comments have veered quite a bit to the usual attack language of social conservatives “Collectivist/communist/Marxist/socialist, pointy-headed, so-called “liberals,” have almost ZERO imaginative powers!” pretty much covers the usual uninformed attitudes. Another commenter stated that “liberals are the angry ones, libertarians are calm and rational” which is a statement reeking of confirmation bias.

    Mr. Shermer, I’ve now lost so much respect for you, that I wonder, how will I consider you credible again?

    • Sark says:

      You know, even though I disagree with Dr. Shermer on this, I haven’t lost respect for him. If I only respected people that I agree with on everything, well, I wouldn’t respect anyone. I have no doubt that Dr. Shermer is willing to listen open-mindedly to people who disagree with him, and that alone puts him far ahead of most libertarians (or liberals, or conservatives, or especially socialists).

    • TryLogic says:

      There seems to be a simple error in your reply.

      It should have said….to use an analogy Socialism is to politics what fundamentalism is to religion.

      Beliefs in liberty and freedom falls with in the norm of what our constitution guarantees us. Freedom from government oppression or a theocracy should be a no brainer!

      What part of freedom do you not understand?

      TryUsingLogic

      • intepid says:

        Which part of “elected representative” do Libertarians not understand?

        Although it may not be your opinion, some here seem to think taxation is a form of oppression, just because it’s not spent only on the things they personally think are important.

        I wonder if there is a correlation between libertarianism and being an only child?

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        It was said before much more eloquently that I can probably come up with on short notice, but you are failing to realize that much of the libertarian disagreement to taxes in one of the degree of taxation, not one of “no” taxation.

        Of course stawmen are much easier to burn and much more easily used to divide people than looking at the similarities.

        Those of you that likely voted for Obama should listen to his Notre Dame speech today on humility and disagreements (though I don’t think he’s very humble with his policies, the speech was great and well worth listening to).

    • kabol says:

      Mr. Shermer, I’ve now lost so much respect for you, that I wonder, how will I consider you credible again?

      i’m really sad for shermer. i just know he’s gonna cry himself to sleep over losing your respect.

      i’m crying for him right now.

  56. Steve Mankenberg says:

    Here is the problem with private property ownership and all of the supposed freedom and rights associated with it; the earth doesn’t “belong” to anyone, it belongs to all of us to share EQUALLY. Right? Why wouldn’t you want to agree with that? I imagine that if you come from a background of your family owning large tracts or even small parcels of land nowadays (that were taken by force from someone at some point in the sordid past) you wouldn’t agree with me. So, someone who has built up land wealth through all the agreed upon parameters in this society has an advantage over someone who is not as rich for whatever reason, who doesn’t come from a background of land ownership, who has to sign over his life to the corrupt banking financial system (if he is enough a part of that system in the first place with a steady job, good pay, etc.) in order to have a place to sit down to do what he pleases. Those who have private property (or have good lobbyists working for them in the political hallways) and have the right to exploit it’s resources for profit at the expense of the common man and animal or plant don’t really care about freedom for everyone, they just want their little (or big) bubble to feel secure in.

    • I come from a welfare family in a poor, intellectually bankrupt Rust Belt town (Niagara Falls). I have had many mishaps in my life, some even life threatening, and I understand that mishap will befall me again someday. I do appreciate help in overcoming mishap, but I have also fully internalized my responsibility to repay that help if it was not given to me as outright charity (just ask my family how I have struggled to maintain fealty to my personal creed). I imagine others may appreciate the same kind of help and, assuming the Golden Rule, I wish to treat them the same way I expect to be treated.

      The ownership of private property is at least helpful because of the ex ante incentives it provides the individual to produce tradable goods and services for consumption by others. Private property ownership is also useful because of the ex post protections said ownership can justify (e.g., use of force on private property for protection when the force of the state is unavailable). Private property is useful to my self-preservation and my personal welfare. In this respect private property is a morally justified.

    • If I can purchase and make productive use of land, why should I not be able to own it? What is the justification that the Earth belongs to nobody or that Earth belongs to “everybody?” From where do these beliefs come?

      I know that I exist. I have a moral right not only to self preservation, but to improve aspects of my own happiness as long as I allow others these same moral rights. I know that I can choose to work and create things of physical and intellectual worth. I may not choose to engage in the creation of such were such effort to jeopardize my ability to survive (first most) or if such effort were to infringe on my enjoyment of my limited life. I may choose to put up with temporary pain, or even risk my life however, if I were free to engage or not engage in trade that could make my pain and/or risk worthwhile. Owning plots of Earth could help me preserve my precious life. I could also use plots of Earth to help me enjoy my limited life. I could also use plots of Earth I own in trade for something else that could help me preserve my life or enjoy it as I please as long as I do not infringe on others their right for the same. If I do not own plots of earth, I would have no right to infringe on someone else’s ownership of earth in order to preserve my own life or improve my enjoyment of this life unless they freely chose to grant me such use. The granting of that use may be through charity or it may be granted in exchange for equitable payment of some kind. Regardless, I would have no right to steal the use of someone else’s earth for my needs.

      If the Earth belonged to nobody, how could it ever be used constructively? From where does the rationale that the Earth belongs to no one come? Only in a world devoid of humans does nothing belong to anyone.

      If the Earth belonged to everyone, with whom do I trade for its use? What would be the incentives I or my fellow humans would have to risk enjoyment or even their lives in making any use of plots of this planet? From where does the rationale that the Earth belongs to everyone come? The world in which everyone owns all land is a world in which everyone has been granted the right to steal from everyone else, leaving all human incentive to rot in the dustbin of history.

      • Well, okay…leaving a great deal of human incentive to rot in the dustbin of history.

      • No, I guess I haven’t quantified “human incentive” and the degree of which would be sacrificed to any degree of accuracy and precision. Forgive me my trespasses…

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        Nicole –

        Not only that, but even if all property were today equally shared amongst the entire world population, some people would put that land to more efficient use than others. That would allow them to expand to people who would rather take the money they could make on the sale than deal with the hassle of making its use efficient.

        No matter how they try to slice the pie, people of different abilities given the same set of tools will end with different results.

    • Peter says:

      the earth doesn’t “belong” to anyone, it belongs to all of us to share EQUALLY. Right?

      No. Wrong. What an inordinately strange idea! Why do you have as much right to a square foot of land in Kazakhstan as the Kazakh farmer who lives on it?

  57. William Patrick Haines says:

    I can not claim to be either infallible or unbiased . Yes you can prove some people on government programs are morally flawed and make no effort to support themselves .The construction of a person’s moral character are based on things beyond their control like their environment and their genetics .So pardon me for being a bit harsh on those who condemn the unfortunate while coming from a privileged back ground while concocting some outrageous Rocky Balboa/Cinderella / fish story that narrates some Herculean / Samson like struggle to overcome the obstacles in their path to success . I guess the big fish that got away in that story was the truth that really resembled some puny minnow.
    It is amazing how the libertarians will claim their indifference to the unfortunate is based on rational impartiality but really think the unfortunate made their own bed and should sleep in it and while coming from a privileged background but spouting off some Horatio Algiers Mantra . Like all mantras usually directs a person from the reality around them.
    Statistically you can prove that certain things are possible. Given any random survey of any people of 100 or more a given amount people will be called Steve . But suppose you get 100 people where no Steve is to be found or you get 100 people who happen to Steve .Likewise l you could say while their are some people that take undue advantage of government programs not all of them do and do make all the efforts they can to better themselves and get off these programs to obtain self sufficiency .
    Extremist view points are based on idealism and not realism . Every implementation of these ends up in disaster whether that elitist entity is government like the communist or corporate like the folks who gave us the great depression ,Enron ,the S and L debacle and the current banking crisis and corporate sweat shops that employ child labor or whole sale exploitation and tyrannical abusive bullying which occurred in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on account of lack of any government supervision.

    • @William Patrick Haines,

      Thank you for a decent post! I wish to partially disagree with you however.

      The construction of a person’s moral character are based on things beyond their control like their environment and their genetics

      Perhaps partially controlled may be more like reality. Humans make moral choices at all because we have the ability to learn, conceive and choose with a greater degree of freedom than, let’s say, my dog has. Moral behavior is therefor a function of the evidence we are exposed to (nod: environment), our genetically predisposed abilities to perceive and intellectually process that evidence as well as our ability to reason about what we have learned. I may have a genetic and/or environmental predisposition to help others that are in need of my help, but I can also learn to recognize that a particular person with certain behavioral characteristics who claims to be in need of my help may indeed be a sexual predator who is probably intent on doing me harm, in which case I have learned that the most moral decision I could make is to preserve my own life and welfare at the expense of that potential predator.

  58. Jeshua says:

    Great discussion! I read every single word and never felt bored for a minute. Although i enjoy reading about more traditional skeptic topics, too often i just find myself thinking, “yeah, i knew that, yeah, nothing surprising about that.” Although i think Shermer did make some good points and made me think about some things i hadn’t considered before, like many of the others here i completely disagree with some of his points.

    As much as i enjoyed this discussion, i also think that this is not the proper forum for it. It’s much easier to prove that acupuncture, homeopathy and scientology are all bunk, much easier to find agreement among skeptics on subjects that are more easily tested and much easier to find solid ground. At least this discussion showed one thing for sure. Skeptics are far from a uniform group!

    • While it is easier not to talk about politics, ought we not engage in such discussion nevertheless? After all who better to engage in political discussion than a group of people who are devoted to objective metaphysics, logic and honesty?

      Who said anything worthwhile was easy?

      • TryLogic says:

        @Nicole Tedesco

        Great point!

        TryUsingLogic

      • kabol says:

        excellent point.

        i very much enjoy reading the differing POVs.

        i don’t very much enjoy reading the ad hom attacks on shermer and/or libertarian posters.

        they’re too simple-minded. easy way out.

        i do enjoy making fun of the people who resort to these ad-hom attacks.

        oh no! i’m really a skeptic now!

  59. Bastiat79 says:

    Hey Liberals,

    Has it ever occurred to you that you are not “free” in your sexual relationships since the “persuasiveness” of your spouse is nothing less than exploitative manipulation? Don’t you realize that there is a better “scientific” way to fill your “real” sexual needs by letting yourself be raped by someone objectively/empirically determined to be “good” in bed? Especially if you have no “real” choice of sexual partners because you are poor and ugly?

    If you think I’m silly, think twice because that is EXACTLY what you are saying about voluntary labor relationships.

    You are no less “free” to take your employer’s “orders” than a multimillionaire grocerer is “free” to take your “orders”. That is called voluntary cooperation. The opposite is coercion. Only in front of the policeman you are not free. Being logical about it is not “oversimplification”.

    And by the way, when your job is to watch a machine do the work, please show some respect for the real workers here, those that worked to get the machine in, the shareholders. If you can’t see how saving past work for yourself can bring future benefits to others, please don’t pretend that you understand economics.

    • Sark says:

      That is without question the most bizarre analogy that I have ever heard.

    • intepid says:

      Hey Bastiat79, I had to read your crazy analogy a couple of times before I got the message— Let me see if I am parsing it correctly:

      1) Sex is hard work.
      2) Leftists, by logical extension of their infatuation with the State, should promote the notion of everyone being compulsorily ass-raped by a government-supplied automaton, because we believe it should be illegal for one person to enjoy life any more or less than any other.
      3) Therefore you are right and unions should be abolished (and you shouldn’t have to pay taxes)

      Is that about right?

      Does it occur to you that a corporation might have a little more coercive ability that a potential spouse? Like maybe if it has a monopoly on local business/employment? Or owns the land on which you live?

      “please show some respect for the real workers here, those that worked to get the machine in, the shareholders”

      Oh god I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. I don’t recall the last time I saw a shareholder helping to assemble a factory, create blueprints or do anything productive at all besides renting their money out. They are in it for profit alone, and since they will let a business crash in a heartbeat if it suits their portfolio your notion that they deserve more respect than the workers is laughable.

      • Bastiat79 says:

        To have money to lend you have to work first AND NOT SPEND IT. There would be no factory to build if they had spent it. Can you see that far at all? Think of saving coconuts to have time to build your raft, if you need something more simple to understand.

        The analogy is about the bizarreness of the socialist belief that human relatioships can be “improved” at police gunpoint. That is far more bizarre than my analogy.

      • PhilB says:

        Oh for farks sake! Yes to start or run a business you need idea people and capital. But, you also need labor. Exactly who are the real workers….the people that provide the capital or the people who labor to provide the product to sell that earns a return on that capital.

        Labor is a resource the same way capital and raw materials are. Problems with any one of the three can cause a business to fail.

      • Bastiat79 says:

        Labor does have a value, that is why there is a market price for it. However, the argument usually is that the “fair” wage is above market. You have to realize that above-market wages:
        1) are unfair to the unemployed that actually would want the jobs at market wage
        2) are unfair to the shareholders (let’s say specifically lower-middle-class retirees) that have no bargaining power because their own WORK contribution lies in the past.
        3) does require gun-pointing, esp. viz the managers and the unemployed
        4) creates a moral hazard by discouraging future saving, which is MOST detrimental to the future poor
        5) is morally justified by the idea that the rich are there to be soaked, i.e. the populist idea that cute girls are there to be raped.

        “Does it occur to you that a corporation might have a little more coercive ability that a potential spouse?”

        Oh I feel so coerced when I enter Wal-Mart… Seriously, there is nothing coercive about refusing to provide a job or housing to someone you do not like. Is it “coercive” to refuse sex? When you are the only girl in town?

    • cputter says:

      I’d say that is a pretty good analogy of leftist thought. A pretty girl can be much more exploitative then any evil capitalist, at least your boss pays you wages. Whereas a pretty girl exploits your ‘right’ to good sex (which is arguably even more important than your ‘right’ to good rice) while at the same time forcing you to pay for it! And if that isn’t enough you face the risk of paying alimony, without any further sex!!!

  60. James says:

    Dr. Shermer,

    I absolutely agree it is troubling that the overwhelming majority of atheists, agnostics, skeptics, etc. identify as liberal democrats. I would suggest that many of them are not quite the independent thinkers they fancy themselves as being. Secularists, like all people, form their beliefs largely for social reasons. In order to be accepted by our fellow nonbelievers, we often adopt a liberal viewpoint. However, from an intellectual standpoint, this is just flat out lazy. Our rejection of religion should not be the basis for forming our political views (or really any of our views, for that matter).

    • PhilB says:

      But considering that fundamentalism and social conservatism are so tightly tied to conservative thought, is it any wonder that most athiests-agnostics would self-identify with the liberal democrats. Especially considering the anti-science nature of the fundamentalist nature of the party. (Given the extreme left is also very anti-science, but less so than the right it seems.)

      Although I’m not the hard-core democrat that I was when I was younger I still identify more with the left part of center than right-wing or libertarians.

    • Bully! Bravo!

      Why should we care about specific political positions, especially in situations where the results of collective decision making are far from certain, as long as the intellectual approach to the decision making was objective, cohesive and honest?

  61. tlav says:

    At the core of the arguments there exists a disagreement over whether there are distinct classes of individuals.

    The redistribution view requires that there are individuals inferior in almost every way that must be protected from another group of individuals who are superior at least at production, but inferior at compassion. And finally there exists an elite class who are superior at compassion and understanding, and therefore needed to determine the methods of redistribution and act as the state.

    The libertarian view seems to be that each person is equal and therefore equally capable of deciding their own life. While a class system would exist in the libertarian world, it would be naturally created based on an individuals choice and initiative. Therefore, one individual is not able to truly exploit another individual, since both being equal, the second can choose a different course which includes competing with the first.

    In trying to understand both of these points of views, I must ask if there is any science supporting the idea that there exists a class of individuals that are inferior to another. If so, how is their inferiority measured? Is it a condition of genetics that they are less capable of participating in a free society? I must admit, the redistribution argument sounds a lot like discrimination and is very troubling to me.

  62. Luther says:

    Just make owners (stock holders) of corporations liable for the corporations actions and I’m all for a libertarian society.

    • I believe that is a major characteristic of the democratic libertarian: the rule of law is indeed important to the proper functioning of capitalist economics.

    • Peter says:

      Why should the stock holders be responsible? They don’t control the day to day operations of the company. Why should even the managers who do control it be responsible for the actions of employees when they didn’t specifically order those actions?

      • Luther says:

        I’m not saying that the employees are not held responsible for their individual actions just that the owners need to be a bigger stakeholder in their company’s actions. Profit isn’t sufficient enough motive to insure a company acts responsibly.

      • cputter says:

        Eh? The possibility of losing your entire investment is not motivation for insuring the company is being managed properly?

        I’d second Peter in that only individuals can be held responsible for their actions. So even though investors might lose their money after said company is forced to pay for any harm it caused, I don’t think the investors should go to jail. The criminal charges should be against the people who actually made the bad decisions, the managers or employees.

      • Luther says:

        I think losing your entire investment is motivation enough to insure the company is profitable not responsible. How often does the employee of company go to jail for doing something irresponsible but within company policies anyways? A corporation’s actions do not seem to be held to the same level of accountability that individuals are. All that ever seems to happen is the ubiquitous entity know as the corporation gets hit with a fine. The only exception seems to be where there are really burdensome regulations put in place like SOX and the CFO actually can face jail time.

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        Luther & others –

        Why do you insist on ignoring perfectly good laws which most libertarians subscribe?

        Companies try to act responsibly not only in an attempt to market themselves as good stewards of their fortunes, but also due to contract laws, jail for the Madoff’s of the world, and other laws.

        Libertarianism for most is not anarchism (though as Nicole mentioned a strain of anarchism runs in libertarian circles).

      • db0 says:

        So the employees are responsible when something goes bad but the managers and stockholders when it goes well (after all, they get to keep all the surplus value because of the “risk”).

        Privatize the profits. Socialize the losses.

        Sounds good!

      • cputter says:

        Only a collectivist can think that individuals are not responsible for their own actions.

        Owners do incur all the losses if the company fails. It is only through political connections that they can prevent this, eg. bank bailouts, auto bailouts. The beauty of democracy at work.

        “Surplus value”? Ah, the wonders of the labour theory of value at work…

      • db0 says:

        Only a collectivist can think that individuals are not responsible for their own actions.

        If so, they deserve the full results of their labour then and managers are not needed.

        Owners do incur all the losses if the company fails. It is only through political connections that they can prevent this, eg. bank bailouts, auto bailouts. The beauty of democracy at work.

        I fully expect that in the private-state “libertarian” laws, there would be the same protection of “losses more than the investment”

        “Surplus value”? Ah, the wonders of the labour theory of value at work…

        Hey! Look over there!

      • Peter says:

        Oops…wrong article; I meant to link this one (but the other is worthwhile too)

      • g4m3th30ry says:

        Well, stockholders will lose their money, which seems like a “risk” even if you don’t see it.

        & I will submit in any good company managers are held responsible for their employee’s actions by losing their jobs if necessary. Certainly a normally good manager isn’t held responsible for the idiot shooting up the office, but if all (or even most) of my team members treated our clientele like crap, my boss would be finding another job.

        This of course doesn’t always happen, but don’t all perfection to be the enemy of the good.

  63. KPE says:

    WOW!

  64. Steven G. Riggs says:

    Mr. Shermer, instead of, “and replacing the income tax with either a flat tax or abolishing it altogether and replacing it with a national income tax”, did you mean to say “national sales tax”?

    That’s what I took it to mean, and if so, I agree. A tax system based on consumption rather than production just seems so much more fair to me.

    I’m going to stop there since I’ve got a lot to do and I could spend all day here if I’m not careful…

    • Oops…I’ve already done that…

      Good thing I am (temporarily, hopefully) unemployed. I am trying to get a business up-and-running however. For some reason though, I felt I needed to engage seriously in this debate, in this forum, at this time. This decision countered the need my partners have of me to get something done today. Was this the correct decision? Did I indulge in certain emotions at the expense of rational self interest? Perhaps. All I am saying is that you allow me to be a bone head when I am a bone head, and allow my partners the freedom to declare “bunk” on me and walk away should I engage in this kind of behavior too often.

      I really ought to get going…

  65. William Cutler says:

    In skimming this discussion I perceive a glaring gap, and that is the absence of any reference to self-organizing complex adaptive systems (SOCAS). Politics is such a system, and it is imbeded in a large SOCAS we call society that is embedded in a larger SOCAS we call the Earth.

    It is an attribute of systems of any consequence that they are complex beyond human understanding. The number of active elements and their interactions far exceeds the grasp of the human mind. That is why any “ism” like Communism, Socialism, free-market Capitalism, Libertarianism, or whatever is bound to fail as a framework for predicting the future evolution of a system, or engineering a system that would produce a particular desired outcome. Any such mental construct is a simplification of reality, frought with gaps and inconsistencies, and therefore useless as a tool for managing reality.

    Furthermore, even if we had a complete theory of human affairs and behaviors, it would still fail because of the indeterminacy of chaotic systems (a SOCAS is a chaotic system). This is the consequence of the so-called “butterfly wing effect” which is, in complex systems, the fact that small disturbances or inaccuracies magnify over time until they dominate and eventually diverge widely from any predicted path of system evolution that we may compute, no matter how near-perfect our model of the system and our knowledge of the current state of the system.

    So, what can we do? The best we can do, I believe, is to observe with an open and humble mind how the system seems to work. Then pick strategies to get to a desired state (And how do we determine that desired state? See below.)and put those strategies into effect. An important element of any such strategy is a strong “detect and correct” loop in the control system we have in place. Another strong element is to build in flexibility and adapatability, so that when it becomes apparent how and where we guessed wrongly, we can back out of our mistaken path with minimum cost and redirect onto a new path that seems more likely to achieve the desired outcome.

    How do we determine the desired outcome? I think through a process of conversation among all who are concerned, with the objective of reaching a functional consensus on the qualities of the desired outcome (not its form). First start working on agreements on some basics, such as “sustainable well-being and justice for all people on the planet” and “sustaining the health of the natural systems that support human society.”

    I think for Libertarians the key questions might be “How much effort do those who are “making it” devote to helping those who are not, and why?” and “How much effort is put into collective action to accomplish what cannot be accomplished by individuals operating as isolated agents of free choice?” Another question might be “What does it mean, really, to ‘help’, and is it possible to do so without inflicting more damage than good?” With regard to that last question, don’t be a coward and take the cynic’s way out.

    • Be careful, because the collective decision of Germans in the 1930s lead to some very, very bad outcomes. Collective decision making can also be called “The Market” and can lead to disastrous busts as well as productive booms.

      To paraphrase an old 1970s US television commercial, “9 out of 10 dentists can be wrong!”

      See also, “Hume’s guillotine” for a philosophical discussion of the “is-ought” problem,

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is-ought_problem

  66. Bjørn says:

    It is none of the government’s business who I choose to help and give aid and charity to, and I find it deeply morally repugnant that bureaucratic agencies have the legal right to confiscate my wealth through force or the threat of force (taxes), launder my money and waste most of it to run the government organizations that process my money (with dollops allocated for paying for bridges to nowhere and prostitutes for politicians), and redistribute it to people who I do not know.

    I have always found the idea that collecting taxes is akin to confiscating wealth by force a bit silly. We live in s society that through it’s laws allow for individuals to earn the money that they do. Were it not for the infrastructure (paid for by taxes), security (ditto), legal system, etc. then acquiring any significant wealth would be largely impossible, and thus only attainable by a select few. Additionally, if every individual were to choose for themselves which charity to support (most probably wouldn’t choose any), then the decisions wouldn’t be informed.

    Libertarians are not uncharitable selfish hedonists; we just want the freedom to choose.

    It is of course entirely possible that a significant proportion of self-proclaimed libertarians are uncharitable selfish hedonists. What to do if they are?

    • Again, search this page for my previous posts (“Nicole Tedesco”). A Great Libertarian Fear is that once a particular tax for a particular purpose becomes moot for whatever reason, the tax won’t go away and the individuals who have derived political power from the structure which supported that particular tax will continue to be able to indulge in that power at the unfair expense of others. In other words, though taxation is a necessary evil it is an evil that must be fought tooth and nail lest taxation degenerate into outright theft.

  67. Eugenie Scott says:

    I haven’t read everything (and likely won’t!) but I have noticed a common confusion in political discussions regarding “equality” (as in “all men are created equal” and similar phrases.)

    Do not confuse equality with identicality. Human beings are not identical: they are diverse in lots of ways. But if you live in the US and some other nations, citizenship makes you EQUAL, which means that under the law, you have the same rights. Equality is a political concept. We have decided that men and women, for example, are equal under the law, even if they are not identical. There are plenty of places around the world where males and females are NOT equal, as well as not being identical.

    So remember that equality is a legal concept, not a biological description.

  68. Carolyn says:

    There is little room for pure libertarianism in a world that will soon be 9 billion people. Cooperation, collective action and social responsibility will be needed for survival. There are certainly fewer libertarians in our large cities than there are in our rural states, evidence that highly populated societies require individuals to concede some “freedoms” to the group in order to maintain reasonable levels of quality of life, safety and health.

    • I truly understand your point about the possible requirements to scale human society to an extent never before seen in history.

      How far ought that (admittedly, necessary) “cooperation, collective action and social responsibility” be allowed to progress before it becomes tyrannical? What is the cut off point? How do we avoid a “boiling frog scenario” in which we are all caught with no recourse to reverse short of violent revolution? What can we do today to make sure we don’t go overboard as we wade into truly uncharted waters of governance and prosperity?

    • Peter says:

      There is little room for pure libertarianism in a world that will soon be 9 billion people. Cooperation, collective action and social responsibility will be needed for survival.

      You are confused. Cooperation, etc., are aspects of voluntary action; i.e., part of libertarian society that are impossible in (an imaginary perfectly-)unlibertarian “society” (scare quotes because there would be no “society” here).

    • kabol says:

      There is little room for pure libertarianism in a world that will soon be 9 billion people. Cooperation, collective action and social responsibility will be needed for survival.

      or just break out those bulldozers and machine guns!

      (sorry, carryover inside joke from the comments on shermer’s other libertarianism topic)

  69. Joe Calhoun says:

    Dr. Shermer,

    You attract an amazing crowd. I think someone might have pointed this out in this maze of comments, but I think you meant that you would replace the income tax with a consumption tax. And I second (or third) that motion.

    One thing about the comments here that amazes me is the almost complete lack of faith that some seem to have in their fellow man. Why do people assume that everyone in the world, except the people they associate with, are selfish, ignorant and evil? I don’t know how some of you can be so pessimistic. It must be an awful way to live.

    • MadScientist says:

      A consumption tax? Gee, that means the Rockefellers will have to eat a hell of a lot more burgers to help fund the state. Then again maybe they just need to buy a new suit every day – you know those suits that cost $40k or so. As others have pointed out, that aspect of the proposed libertarianism will only serve to increase the gap between rich and poor.

      The USA used to be more libertarian in the past (although libertarians may never agree). In general this wasn’t all that good a thing and successive governments have introduced more regulation and more taxation which does have a detrimental effect on business in general. These days people tend to focus on government waste (and there’s a lot of it – and growing). So, give the government a kick and try to make things better; I see no value in wanting to replace one system with another overnight – you know, the way Russia announced that the Soviet Union is gone and that they will have a free market economy in a matter of days. If libertarians have any genuinenly good ideas to contribute then they can lobby to get those ideas into legislation. If they’re really good they can eventually legislate us into a libertarian society (which I doubt will ever happen).

      • Joe Calhoun says:

        Mad Scientist,

        Legislate us into a libertarian society? I had to laugh at that one. Do you really believe that we’ll ever get politicians to vote for reducing their own power? Seems a bit unlikely.

        As for the consumption tax, I’m actually not as cold hearted as you might think. A consumption tax could be structured to reduce the regressive nature of such taxes by providing tax credits for lower incomes. The reason I favor it is that economic growth, regardless of what you may have learned from the House of Keynes, is dependent on savings and investment, not consumption. Taxing capital and income while at the same time encouraging debt accumulation hasn’t worked very damn well. Maybe we shouldn’t tax people for doing the very things we want them to do – save and invest. Maybe we shouldn’t structure the tax code to favor debt over savings.

    • Peter says:

      Why do people assume that everyone in the world, except the people they associate with, are selfish, ignorant and evil?

      And these same people that think everyone is selfish, ignorant and evil are vocal in their support for democracy – expecting that letting those “selfish, ignorant and evil” people run the world will produce good outcomes, whereas letting those exact same people run their own lives will produce bad outcomes. Yeah, that’s not like religious devotion at all!

      • tmac57 says:

        No, Peter, we don’t assume that politicians will always have our best interests at heart, that is why we created checks and balances, term limits, ethics laws, and the right to vote out those who don’t meet those standards. It’s called Democracy. A concept that you apparently hold in disdain. Is it perfect? Obviously not. But would I trust those same people to be turned loose in an unregulated, laissez faire world of your dreams? Obviously not!

      • Peter says:

        Who’s “we”? The same people that aren’t fit to run their own lives? Why would the laws they pass to limit …well, themselves!… be good laws and not bad ones?

      • tmac57 says:

        “We” refers to the U.S.A. in general through a democratic tradition as laid down by the Constitution.
        “Why would the laws they pass to limit …well, themselves!… be good laws and not bad ones?” Because “we” have the ability to vote out of office, lawmakers that we feel do not have society’s best interests in mind. Again, we don’t always get it right, but what you don’t seem to understand is under Libertarianism, we will still be dealing with the same tendencies of human frailty the we see now, only you would basically be saying: “okay everyone, there are no more rules,everybody for themselves, just don’t mess with me or my property, and I will leave you to do whatever you want”. And you don’t see where this might all go wrong?

      • Peter says:

        But the whole reason you claim to need government in the first place is that you claim most people don’t “have society’s best interests in mind”; that they’ll do whatever it takes to serve themselves at everyone else’s expense. If that were true, they wouldn’t vote for things that served society’s interests…such as voting out the bad lawmakers.

  70. William Patrick Haines says:

    While not all business are inheiertly evil guidlines are needed . Also a national sales tax would be more determental to the poor and could business be trusted to collect this tax . They do not even pay their workers all the wages owed
    http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/05/11/the_crime_wave_no_one_talks_about/
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/15/business/15utility.html?_r=1

  71. ryan says:

    How bout a form of Libertarian Socialism for minors who cant help the economic placement of their parents. Then once becoming “adults” whatever that means then they would be subjects to the less forgiving Libertarian Capitalism. This allows everyone an equal chance to become the person they want to be and also strong people who can help others in their community but it still holds “adults” up to complete responsibility for oneself. Anyone like this idea?

  72. Roy Edmunds says:

    Hey guys, private property?? You took the land from the American Indian and gave them rubbish!!! You destroyed their country, their civilization, and hey, you moved on. Great for you guys to be able to wax lyrical about Liberalism, or Libertarian Capitalism or any other isms. The facts are you stole the bloody land from the original inhabitants by force of numbers. Is it any wonder the Moslem extremists are pissed off at you being the first country to recognise a state which did not exist prior to 1948 and even then had no boundaries. So you could supply arms and ammunition to prevent the destruction of this ‘new state’. This is the basis of your mess.
    2017 is the date given as crunch time when all your bullshit comes home to roost according to Juan Enriquez. By then if you are unable to reign in your debts you will have 100 percent of your budget taken up with absolutely no discretionary percent left. And China by that time will not be buying American Dollars just to help you out. You have hit an iceberg, you are sinking, the first class passengers have life boats, but the majority are going down with the ship. You are arguing over re arrangement of deck chairs on Titanic America.
    You are engaged in a war you cannot afford to lose, and cannot afford.You have 1 in 4 of your citizens in prison. Producing stuff which puts other Americans out of work. You have 40 million plus working poor, millions unemployed, something that resembles third world poverty and deprivation, a president who is doing everything wrong, pouring billions into black holes, and what can I say, you are about to reap the whirlwind.
    However, life goes on. You are still the greatest country on earth when it comes to compassion and the best there is that ones fellow man can achieve. Press on with the best you can do and though you are in for something worse than the great depression, time will heal the wounds and something better will come, no doubt.
    There are some great Americans working for a better world, and these are the ones to promote and listen to.

  73. epicurus says:

    @peter
    I do not doubt objective reality. I doubt libertarianism and I am certain that economics is not a mathematical certainty (even arithmetical logic is uncertain according to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem; it’s disguised tautology). Where’s the mathematical or scientific proof that libertarianism is the result of applying correct economics? I can forgive scientism, the improper use of scientific method to reduce everything to science. But the claim that logical axioms can predict human behavior and economic variables with absolute certainty is not even scientism. It is pseudoscience, wishful thinking pretending to be science.

    • Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem says nothing about mathematical theorems lacking certainty, but rather tells us that no formal mathematical system can be complete. In other words, neither algebra nor calculus alone can express all that is mathematically possible to express. It is still permissible for any mathematical theorem to be expressed with utmost certainty.

    • Logical axioms may not predict human behavior, but they can be used to guide moral decision making.

      Morality is the definition of “ought” while empiricism helps to describe what “is”. Humans, left to their own devices in isolation, tend to deteriorate into tribalism, into warfare and tend to eat themselves out of house and home (goodbye, Hopi and Easter Islanders). Science, or more precisely, empiricism, helps us discover what behaviors human tend to engage in and also helps us discover which of those behaviors tend to improve overall health, welfare and happiness. Empiricism is fine however, for aggregate descriptions of human behavior but what ought the individual do under any particular circumstance? Therein lies the need for philosophy and even political alignment and therein lies the need for rational deliberation of axiom, lemma, theorem and hypothesis.

      • db0 says:

        Humans, left to their own devices in isolation, tend to deteriorate into tribalism, into warfare and tend to eat themselves out of house and home

        So they need enlightened libertarians to show the way and a state to enforce their rule eh?

        What a farce.

    • It is good to doubt libertarianism. It is good to doubt Objectivism. It is good to doubt liberalism as well as conservatism. I would also strongly advise to be skeptical of modern economic theory.

      Keep up the good work—continue thinking for yourself.

      • db0 says:

        I would also strongly advise you to be skeptical of Austrian, MOnetarist and Keynesian economic theories as well. They’re already been proven wrong anyway.

      • Peter says:

        “That’s wrong” constitutes proof in your world, does it? :)

      • db0 says:

        Seeing as I’ve already provided you with evidence of why they are wrong, yes.

      • cputter says:

        I would also strongly advise you to be skeptical of Austrian, MOnetarist and Keynesian economic theories as well. They’re already been proven wrong anyway.

        I’ve skimmed through your “proof” and found it wanting. It’s based on the labour theory of value, which is only slightly more absurd then your “possession” as basis for private property.

        How about sending it off to an economics journal for peer review? Let me know when it gets published…

        It seems that anarcho-socialists theory has not improved much since the Spanish civil war (one would think they would at least learn from past mistakes). It’s all rather ill-defined without much of a coherent theoretical basis. Most of the information there involves attempted justification of why capitalist are evil, baby-eating demons and should be gotten rid of. Though, just like during the Spanish civil war, proposals of how society should function (once the anarchists have burned the churches, killed the priests, the capitalists and the prostitutes) are vague at best. It amounts to much waving of hands proclaiming people would want to feed each other (if only they were as moral as the anarchists). Though there is little, if any, evidence of how conflicts would be resolved with people that willingly want to organize into capitalist structures. How is private property defined? How to deal with criminals? Who decides which people will be forced to work so that the rest can eat?

        Since the theory is lacking anarcho-socialist societies will tend to devolve into mob-rule at best, and state-socialism at worst.

        For some goof reading regarding the anarchists during the Spanish civil war:

        http://www.gmu.edu/departments/economics/bcaplan/spain.htm

      • db0 says:

        I’ve skimmed through your “proof” and found it wanting. It’s based on the labour theory of value, which is only slightly more absurd then your “possession” as basis for private property.

        Nice dodge. Won’t hold any water as you simply did an type of ad hominem.

        Most of the arguments in it, don’t even use the LTV but simply point the internal inconsistency of economic “axioms” by using reductio ad absurdum.

        How about sending it off to an economics journal for peer review? Let me know when it gets published…

        A peer-reviewed economic journal. Is that some kind of one-sentence joke? Is it like a peer-reviewed creationist journal?

        I don’t care to argue Anarchism with you really. You simply attempt to divert the issue at hand by making unbased claims about the Spanish revolution or outright lying.

        For some goof reading regarding the anarchists during the Spanish civil war:

        Is this like a prerequisite “counter” to anarchists for all Rothbardians? I skimmed through it and got sick of all the lies really.

      • Peter says:

        And you complained that I sent you to “a book” (the article – not a book – about the Spanish “anarchists”); your link really is a book. And the only thing it’s “evidence” of is stupidity and (deliberate, I strongly suspect) misunderstanding/misrepresentation of opposing views.

      • db0 says:

        It’s a FAQ, with specific counters to specific points. You can simply ready what is relevant. Of course you’d rather dimiss the whole thing rather than risk cognitive dissonance but I didn’t expect otherwise.

        And I complained because I asked for context

    • Peter says:

      If you don’t doubt objective reality, then surely you can see that there is such as thing as a true economics (never mind what it is for now)? So why are you so all fired up to deny that such a thing is possible? If it is possible – if there is an objective reality – surely it behooves us to find out what it is?

      But the claim that logical axioms can predict human behavior and economic variables with absolute certainty is not even scientism.

      Well, who ever suggested logical axioms can predict human behavior? The whole point of Austrian – as opposed to other schools of – economics is that human behavior isn’t predictable! Scientism comes in when you start to think mathematical equations can predict human behavior.

  74. @Roy Edmunds
    That is not the way to win friends and influence people. What happened to intellectual honesty?

    What should the United States do to fix past injustices against the Native American people? What should the Native American do to fix past injustices against those of European heritage? The European/Native American problem could not and cannot be described by any one, homogeneous set of characteristics for all peoples. There were various Native American nations that engaged in various treaties and cultural exchanges with people from various European nations. Who do we blame for the suffering of the 17th European settlers of Western New York? (See the history of “Devil’s Hole” in the lower Niagara gorge.) The French? The English? The Iroquois? Various indigenous tribes played Europeans against one another and against other indigenous tribes. Some Europeans were fair to the locals, and some Europeans acted immorally. Some Native Americans were honorable and some not. The destruction of about 90% of the native population from European disease since the time of First Contact set the stage for a very interesting set of circumstances for continual European encounters; some tribes claimed now abandoned land (e.g., of the extinguished Mound People; see also the joint exploration of Rhode Island by Europeans and remaining native peoples), some tribes were glad to sell land they felt they didn’t need or to sell land that was simply abandoned by the death of others. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson attempted to deal with the welfare of the Native Americans to the best their creed allowed. (I am not aware of anyone else in the world proposing better solutions to them at the time.) Some tribes chose to run into the wilderness than to allow themselves to be assimilated by states like North Carolina which were attempting to act as well meaning as they could given what they knew at the time (the tribes “went Galt” on the assimilators by executing the exit option, and the results were not good—see “Trail of Tears”).

    What is the United States to do now? What are functional nations such as the Seneca to do now? What about wealthy Native American nations who continue to amass riches off of the gambling habits of wealthy citizens of the United States? Do we roll back the clock and return lands to those who can prove the earliest ancestral linkage to any piece of land? What would happen to land which changed hands between Native Americans as a result of their wars or abandonment? Should we move the Tuscarora of Niagara back to North Carolina? What would have happened if the English decided to “play nice” and leave the local people to their land and go back home? Would the French have been so nice? The Spanish? The Russians? Would the structure of the Iroquois nation survive in today’s globalized human society of so many billions of people? This is a good question, and one possible answer is indeed “Yes” but begs the question of what a modern Iroquois nation would actually look like. Ought we apply this process to any country in Europe? What about modern day China? Where do we stop?

    Roy, one problem with indulging in diatribe is that logic, reason and facts is so easily lost in the flood of emotion. Besides, what about the old saying that those who live in glass houses not throwing rocks?

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      Nicole, hi,
      ” what should the United States do to fix past
      injustices against the native American people?”
      This question is at the heart of all the problems between different races where injustices have occurred. The answer is NOTHING can be done. You cannot undo the past and you cannot compensate the dead. The history of the injustices is past on by word of mouth from parent to offspring and the resentment continues. This is why the Palestinian problem like the Irish question will never go away completely. Not in our life time or that of our children, mores the pity. My sister in law is Israeli, I have a friend who is Egyptian. Both know history. Both understand there is no answer but to forget the past and get on with the present. Isn’t that human nature. Many cannot do this and for their own purposes keep the hatred going. Holding the hurt to themselves which causes a deep seated hatred.Or maybe people who are looking for some cause gravitate to this type of conflict because it suits their demeanour, or need to hit back at someone for who knows what reason. So knowing history doesn’t really solve anything except that the past is prologue and you get ready to reap what has been sown whether you were responsible or not.

  75. Certainly, there was the whole “Manifest Destiny” affair but if that never came to pass who would the tribes and nations of the west have dealt with instead? The Mexicans? The Spanish? The Russians? The French (especially under Napoleon)? How would western Native Americans have fared once they clashed with these people?

    In terms of the “Manifest Destiny” concept I submit it was merely a cultural by-product of “counter colonialism” which countered the active expansion of European powers onto or near the continent. Who, by the way, started the arms race-like European colonial movement?

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      Nicole, impossible to answer the question as to who might have dealt with the tribes and nations of the west because it simply is hypothetical. My point is that what did happen is history and that is the only reality we have. However the conflict produced thus is ongoing from generation to generation as each attempts to resolve conflict through change and a resolution which then creates the next conflict. Some conflicts once established seem to take on a life of their own beyond the control of the various parties involved and action by one party produces new conflict which is answered by ever greater conflict from another. It seems endless. The European colonial movement seems to be part of the general historical record of human organisation ever since we walked out of Africa. It continues to this day with China and India emerging as dominant forces. But today there is no need to physically colonise when you can subdue a target nation through trade and debt. The USA is fighting different wars on different fronts simultaneously. But all connected in some way. There is a need to look honestly at the whole mess as being the sum total of all its contributing parts. The USA is deeply in debt. Federally, privately, and with a tragic trade deficit. Time is running out.
      There are many Americans who can trace the current crisis going back to precise choices made by various administrations over the past fifty years. The problem is when you have taken a wrong path for say thirty years, the problem of returning to what the situation was before the choice was made to alter some seemingly minor departure from the ‘way things were’ is nigh on impossible. A new scenario must be played out to the end. The outcome may not be pleasant unfortunately. For instance, how can America protect herself from cheap imports from China. China with a totally different sociological, political and historical environment. How does one even begin to find a resolution to this problem if Obama persists in talking in nebulous terms of the defence of the meaningless phrase “free trade”. There are only two things you can do if you are in debt. Earn more, or spend less. You can do both together. Adopting the approach to cause increasing numbers of the population to spend less produces conflict in a democratic society because the gap between the haves and have nots widens. Previous Govts have attempted to resolve the conflict by encouraging debt. That didn’t work. Whats next? Borrowing from China to pour more money into an unresolved conflict? China will only provide support if the transaction is sustainable on a business basis. And 2017 looms close.Like a Zane Grey western.

  76. J.F.Soti says:

    Michael Shermer for president 2012!! To all his detractors please move to Cuba or if your are too lazy to learn Spanish(as you all are to learn economics) then go to England.

    Penn and Teller in the cabinet.

    • tmac57 says:

      Or, perhaps we will just stay here and wait for the Libertarian majority to take away our freedoms.

  77. rob says:

    i would like to see some (non-anecdotal) evidence that government is inevitably less efficient, more beaurocratic or more corrupt than a corporation. anyone who’s worked in a major corporation (as i have) has seen corruption, apathy, backbiting and ineffiency to rival any branch of any civil service. seriously, this is such a truism in libertarian and conservative circles that there must be some evidence, right?

    but that brings me to a more important point: the tendency of libertarians to see their position as an enlightened or commonsense alternative to the dogma of either left or right. but libertarianism is neither more nor less dogmatic than any other political ideology or set of ideologies.

    let me explain: there is no perfect laboratory in which to test any economic theory. you cannot say with certainty that any strategy is the right one, because the claim is simply not testable. the left might hold chile up as an example of the failure of the chicago school doctrine, or the right the soviet union as an example of the failure of marxism. but, to take the soviets for an example, the bolshevics had, shortly after the revolution, to reintroduce some free-market activity to keep the country running. in neither – or any – case has there been any kind of ideological or economic purity.

    you take your libertarian ideals on faith, just like the rest of us.

    • Rob, you are absolutely correct! Not only can we not test any particular economic theory in isolation, but we have no way of repeating our experiments! (In this respect, economic systems are—dare I say—ergodic or at least highly entropic.)

      These problems however, do not excuse us from making moral decisions today with regard to laws and other acts our government ought to pass, repeal or enforce. Unfortunately we are left to guess what we ought to be doing to preserve our lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness in the long run. Some guesses however, are probably more predictive than others, but uncertainty abounds in today’s most difficult of problems. (If not for the uncertainty, they wouldn’t be difficult problems now, would they?)

      You are the President of the United States. You are faced with a crisis, and no one solution seems to be the “best” solution. You must make a decision for required action now, and there is no shirking of this responsibility. What are you to do? What will guide your decision making in the face of overwhelming uncertainty and great risk?

    • Yes, the operations of corporations (especially the largest of them) can be as or more inefficient than the operations of government. The difference is that government possesses guns and nuclear bombs and the sanction to use them, while corporations in a free society do not.

      To the extent that any corporation is indistinguishable from its host government, the separation of economics and state can be shown to have broken down. In our modern society we tend to call this “corruption”.

      • Peter says:

        Yes, the operations of corporations (especially the largest of them) can be as or more inefficient than the operations of government. The difference is that government possesses guns and nuclear bombs and the sanction to use them, while corporations in a free society do not.

        Not only that. The difference is that when the corporation loses money, it eventually goes out of business and its assets get acquired by less-inefficient competitors. It can’t just insist that people pay it regardless of how well it supplies their needs (taxation, i.e.)

      • db0 says:

        and its assets get acquired by less-inefficient competitors

        An assertion. It could just as well be competitors with more wealth to lose.

      • Peter says:

        So what? Then they lose it, as well. Suddenly you’re all concerned about baby-eating capitalists losing their wealth? :)

      • db0 says:

        No, just refuting your claim that it’s going to be the most succesful that survive. It’s simply going to be the more entrenched.

      • Peter says:

        No it isn’t. The equally-inefficient competitor with more wealth to lose (one has to wonder how it acquired this wealth) will soon lose it to someone better able to utilize it effectively. You can’t just keep losing forever, without the power of taxation.

      • db0 says:

        You’re of course wrong, as it’s not efficiency that sustains larger companies from competition, it’s the power of oligarchy and the natural barriers it raises. I’ve already mentioned them before and you quit the thread.

        And of course the empirical evidence of actually existing capitalism supports me, while you only have theories to fall back onto.

    • Some ideologies by their nature are less dogmatic than others, just like some people are.

      Judge dogmatic behavior on terms that help you recognize dogmatic behavior when you see it, rather than simply ascribing “dogma” to any and all ideologies and people who wish to discuss them. How? Perhaps by applying some of the rules that people like Michael Shermer have taught us, such as asking the ideologue what evidence would they accept that would change their mind about what it is they believe. (Get a copy of Shermer and Linse’s “Baloney Detection Kit” for further help.)

      Do not confuse dogma with simple enthusiasm.

    • Peter says:

      let me explain: there is no perfect laboratory in which to test any economic theory.

      True. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t know anything. Read up on Austrian economics (the school of economics that starts with the idea that “there is no perfect laboratory in which to test any economic theory”!)

      • Very good, Peter!

      • db0 says:

        Which also says that when “Theory contradicts reality, it’s reality that’s wrong”

        Yes, very good Peter.

      • Peter says:

        Very good, db0 – demonstrating yet again that you have no idea what you’re blathering about. Reality that’s wrong, indeed! Hahaha.

      • db0 says:

        I didn’t say. In the words of von Mises, economic theory “is not derived from experience; it is prior to experience” and “no kind of experience can ever force us to discard or modify a priori theorems; they are logically prior to it and cannot be either proved by corroborative experience or disproved by experience to the contrary.”

        “If a contradiction appears between a theory and experience, we must always assume that a condition pre-supposed by the theory was not present, or else there is some error in our observation. The disagreement between the theory and the facts of experience frequently forces us to think through the problems of the theory again. But so long as a rethinking of the theory uncovers no errors in our thinking, we are not entitled to doubt its truth” [emphasis added, quoted by Homa Katouzian, Ideology and Method in Economics, pp. 39-40]

        Eat it!

      • Peter says:

        But that’s not the same as “reality is wrong”. Note “a condition pre-supposed by the theory was not present”.

        If I tell you that I have evidence that 1+1=7, you can safely assume I’m misinterpreting my so-called evidence (assuming I’m not lying outright). And that’s all Mises is saying. If you have a priori knowledge that must be correct (such as: 1+1=2), no evidence can possibly refute it; he’s quite correct.

      • db0 says:

        That is not what Mises is saying. He’s saying that “Our a priori are correct. If evidence refutes this, then we missed something. But that doesn’t mean that our a priori need to change”

        This is NOT how science works btw.

        Your analogy with 1+1=2 also fails since Misoid axioms have nowhere near the kind of empirical proof of 1+1=2 (“Here’s an apple. Here’s another apple…”)

        If you disagree, go ahead and give me an example

      • cputter says:

        @ db0

        You’re confusing axiomatic science with empirical science.

        Praxeology, like mathematics, is axiomatic. All theories follow from axioms, that may or may not have any relation to reality. If a theory has been proven with respect to the axioms it is based upon it will remain true until the end of days. No amount of empirical evidence can refute it, only a flaw in the proof.

        Thus if I were to add 1 apple to an empty bowl and then another apple, then find after inspection there to be 3 apples in the bowl it would not follow that mathematics has been proven wrong. Rather, in fact, that reality is wrong. From set theoretic axioms we know that 1 + 1 = 2, and will always do so, no amount of empirical evidence can ever refute this. If reality were to disagree with us we would be quite right to think that reality is wrong, ie. our prior assumptions might be incorrect, or our perception of reality is incorrect. Never our axiomatic theories.

        In the case of the apples in the bowl it might be that our assumption that apples can not reproduce sexually is false. Or that our assumption that an apple can not clone itself through mitosis is false. Never, never, would 1 + 1 not equal 2!

        Similarly if Mises were to come across a man that does not act it would not disprove any theories of praxeology, rather Mises would correctly assume that reality is wrong, ie. the man is a puppet, or dead, etc.

        You are correct to say that any axiomatic system deals purely with a priori knowledge, and that any link to reality is tenuous at best. Why do we use Euclidean geometry to approximate our surroundings instead of any of the other consistent forms of geometry? Why use integers to count real world objects? Its like Einstein said – “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

        There is no proof that reality should follow the rules of our a priori mathematical models. Yet we still use them due to their amazing predictive abilities. Same goes for praxeology.

      • db0 says:

        Cputter, unfortunately you miss a very serious point. That mathematic axioms are accepted excatly because they approximate reality, and reality can be explained to a degree through them.

        This is not the case for economics. In fact, to compare economics to mathematics is to slander Mathematics.

        The Axioms of Economics are nothing, not at all similar to mathematic axioms!

      • cputter says:

        So do you at least now understand the difference between an axiomatic science (all the different branches of mathematics, philosophy, linguistics and praxeology) and empirical science (physics, chemistry, medicine)?

        If so, you’d be intellectually dishonest to say that Mises’ statement was in any way incorrect.

        The Axioms of Economics are nothing, not at all similar to mathematic axioms!

        It seems you’re still not fully understanding how axiomatic systems work. I can make up any number of random axioms (the sky is green, wheels are square), and any theory I prove using these axioms will always hold true within this axiomatic schema. It’s irrelevant whether the axioms are deemed ‘mathematical’ or not. Of course the axioms might lead to logical contradictions, or might not be very useful in the first place.

        Praxeology is founded on the action axiom, and all else follows from there. For example, the law of diminishing marginal utility can be proven within this axiomatic system. It’s truth is undisputed since praxeology is an axiomatic science. Of course the question is how useful is this in the real world? Can we make any meaningful predictions? Given how well Austrian Business Cycle Theory predicts real world phenomena it’s safe to say it has its uses. (Compare this for instance to your socialist explanation of business cycles, according to your link: class struggle. Total absurdity.)

        Of course praxeology doesn’t pretend to be able to model individual human actions. That is in fact the point.

        Even mathematical models are not always very useful in the real world. There are many things for which mathematical modelling leads at best to fuzzy, contingent, statistical results and never successfully predicts anything at all. In fact, such systems are the rule, not the exception.

      • db0 says:

        The problem is that Economics is supposed to be an empirical science, such as physics or chemistry or psychology, since it aims to explain the way the world is. Treating it as axiomatic “science” is just trying to problem.

        Of course the question is how useful is this in the real world? Can we make any meaningful predictions? Given how well Austrian Business Cycle Theory predicts real world phenomena it’s safe to say it has its uses.

        This is a joke since the Austrian prediction of the business cycle is based on a criticism of Government controlled credit and the theory is bunk. It is logically inconsistent. Thus you predict business cycles in a vague and general sense.

        (Compare this for instance to your socialist explanation of business cycles, according to your link: class struggle. Total absurdity.)

        Er, no. They are not caused by “class struggle” but of course don’t let me stop you from showing your ignorance.

        Of course praxeology doesn’t pretend to be able to model individual human actions. That is in fact the point.

        Praxeology cannot model itself out of a wet box.

        Even mathematical models are not always very useful in the real world.

        Difference is that mathematicians do not attempt to change the real world to fit their mathematical models.

      • db0 does have a point,

        The Axioms of Economics are nothing, not at all similar to mathematic axioms!

        I found neoclassical economics to be a very weak “science” indeed and leaves a lot to be desired. Economics, as a discipline, seems to be where chemistry was back in the phlogiston days. So much, “I think this” and “I assume that” kind of thing, even in papers for which Nobel Prizes have been awarded! However, if economic understanding is weak it is weak for the capitalist and socialist and communist cases as well.

      • db0 says:

        Nicole, what you all “Socialist Economics” is nothing more than an analysis of the Capitalist mode of production from an empirical basis. That is, you start from the observation and then create the theory.

        This is what Marx attempted to do in Das Kapital for example. While Marx certainly made errors, they are of the scale of the errors that any young school of science would do. Even Darwin thought that the eye could not have evolved for example. However the errors of empirical economics pale compared to the sheers tower of cards that neoclassical economics has built

        The reason why they turn people Socialist is that it exposes the inherent unfairness of the Capitalist system, and thus people feel the need to oppose it.

  78. John Draeger says:

    Fiscal conservative, social liberal. Yup, that would describe me, but I don’t agree with some of Shermer’s economic ideology, and I wouldn’t call myself a libertarian. So right from the start there’s a mismatch in definitions, and if you look in any dictionary I doubt you’ll find Shermer’s definition.

    As for eliminating welfare programs, ever notice that it’s healthy, young to middle-aged men that favor such ideas? When they or their family gets sick and they go bankrupt paying for their privately-funded health plan they change their tune. Yeah, they’d just let the old, sick, and disabled people drop dead–as long as they get theirs. Do you really think that charity would pay for the care of all those people?

    Now freedom and liberty are used by Shermer without definitions. That’s a problem because different people have different ideas about what constitutes being free. And one person’s increased freedoms often decrease one or more freedoms of someone else.

    I agree with what rob has to say above. Shermer’s politics/economic ideology is based on faith, not objective evidence. In the real world markets are not so predictable and what works for one state may not be the best option for another.

    • Good point. This, I believe is the basis of the Austrian school of economics: markets are not easily analyzable using the usual empirical methods of variable isolation and repeatability. I submit that, given the degree of uncertainty such a condition would produce, the tools that remain for our use in economic decision making would be the tools of morality, ethics and law.

      I do not believe however, that markets are completely opaque to empirical analysis, especially over long stretches of history. I also do not believe that economic models are opaque to the practice of falsifiability, hence some degree of analysis is possible; in other words we do not have to rely upon moral choice alone in order to derive cohesive models of economic behavior, however predictive or non-predictive those models may be (at least such models would be rational). Is there utility however, in models which are weakly predictive, no matter how rationally defined they were? If our rational models lack utility, are we left with only the tools of morality, ethics and law as a matter of practice?

  79. Sad Skeptic says:

    Shermer, (I love you, by the way) what have you done?
    I can’t escape the politico flu! It’s everywhere! I understand politics is important, but… there are other sites for this!
    Don’t make this site a Libertarian nest! For that matter, don’t make it a Republican or Democrat soapbox either! Please…
    Help me… I can’t watch television anymore. Radio is bad, too. Where is the line? Where do they stop treading on my science? They say it applies, they say its pertinent…
    The politics… it burns…!

    No dis implied. It’s wonderful you all like this site enough to leave long posts. But its virginity is raped…raped… “The horror, the horror!”

    Please don’t take me serious enough to reply.

  80. epicurus says:

    @nicole
    Yes mathematical theorems can have certainty. What the Incompleteness Theorem is saying is a logical system is incomplete if you cannot prove all its statements to be true using only the logical axioms contained in that system. This does not mean there are no true statements in that logical system. It only means there can be false statements in that system which you cannot prove to be false. This makes the logical system uncertain because you can be making false statements which you do not know to be false. And Godel showed that a logical system rich enough to contain the whole of arithmetic is incomplete. But of course 1+1=2. That is a mathematical certainty.

    Of course logic and morality are important to humans not just in economics.

    @peter
    I never denied true economics. I only reject false economics. If human behavior is unpredictable, how can economics be a mathematical certainty? Perhaps you mean can be proven scientifically (you confuse me with your arithmetic examples). Predicting human behavior is not scientism because it is predictable to some extent (but not a mathematical certainty) using statistical method with a margin of error. That’s what poll surveys are all about.

    • Peter says:

      I never denied true economics.

      From where I sit, you seem to be claiming repeatedly that there is/can be no true economics, that it’s all just a matter of opinion.

      If human behavior is unpredictable, how can economics be a mathematical certainty?

      Because (correct) economics doesn’t concern itself with unpredictable human behavior, as such. We know – Mises would say a priori; Rothbard argued that it was really empirical – that humans act; by which we mean apply means to achieve some end; to substitute a less-preferred state of affairs for a more-preferred one (which doesn’t imply that the means used must actually achieve the ends desired: one may believe that dancing causes rain, and be mistaken). That is an absolute certainty (to claim otherwise is to use means (your voice/fingers/keyboard) to achieve an end (convincing listeners as to the falsity of the claim) — a performative contradiction). 100% predictable — but the precise actions taken in any given circumstance are hardly predictable. But from that alone, we can derive the law of decreasing marginal utility; thus that’s another absolutely certain result.

    • Peter says:

      And to continue: we know, with absolute certainty, that humans experience time; therefore that a preferred state of affairs (whatever it might be) that exists at an earlier time is preferable to the preferred state of affairs at some future time. We call this “time preference”; from it we can derive the existence of a natural (wrt humans) interest rate, thus discarding much monetary crankism. (What we can’t do is predict what the natural interest rate will be, except to say that it must be greater than zero).

      We know, with absolute certainty, but certainly empirically, that some people are better at some things than other people (i.e., people are unequal, by nature). We can determine, with absolute certainty, that if different people do different things and trade with each other, they will be better off than if they all try to live independently of one another and do everything for themselves (begone autarkists). We can know, with absolute certainty, that if two people would freely trade with one another, both feel (ex ante) that they would be made better off by the trade; therefore we can conclude, with 100% certainty, that if two people would freely trade with one another but are coerced not to do so, that both are made worse off by the coercion. And so also if they wouldn’t willingly trade but are coerced into doing so. Therefore interference with free trade is harmful. (Rothbard analyzes all varieties of interference and their effects in his Power and Market)

      • db0 says:

        therefore that a preferred state of affairs (whatever it might be) that exists at an earlier time is preferable to the preferred state of affairs at some future time.

        That does not follow from the presmise. The empirical evidence of people willing to save (that is, forego a state of affairs at the current time for having security in the future) refutes you.

        You might say that people only save because of the interest rates, but this is obviously not true, since people were saving even without them (the classic money under the matress tactic)

      • Peter says:

        The empirical evidence of people willing to save (that is, forego a state of affairs at the current time for having security in the future) refutes you.

        No it doesn’t. It just means that the different state of affairs they expect in the future is more valuable than whatever state of affairs they could accomplish now. Nobody saves for what they can already afford.

        On the contrary, that people will save is an implication of the theory, not a refutation of it.

      • db0 says:

        You’re trying to redefine the argument away. In any case, that is not a refutarion of what I said, since if you claim that “It just means that the different state of affairs they expect in the future is more valuable than whatever state of affairs they could accomplish now.” it would mean that negative interest would be a state of affairs. But this would then contradict your time based theory of interest.

      • Peter says:

        What, noting that two different states of affairs are not the same is “redefining the argument away”? Sorry, but no it isn’t.

        I have no idea what you’re on about in the sentence about negative interest.

      • db0 says:

        Let me refute you more particularly then

        No it doesn’t. It just means that the different state of affairs they expect in the future is more valuable than whatever state of affairs they could accomplish now. Nobody saves for what they can already afford.

        People save occasionally because they want the state of affairs they can afford now, to be available later instead.

        So your argument that “Nobody saves for what they can already afford.” is bunk. It has no empirical or logic evidence. People do save for stuff they can already afford, and they do so for security.

        This means that a negative or zero interest would be possible since a future state of affairs which is the same as now would be more or just as valuable.

      • db0 says:

        We can know, with absolute certainty, that if two people would freely trade with one another, both feel (ex ante) that they would be made better off by the trade;

        Untrue, that would only be accurate if both individuals were equal. Under conditions of inequality, those less powerful will be coerced by their current situation to make a deal that will benefit the other party more, ie it would not be fair. On the other hand, the more powerful party can simply wait until the less powerful is willing to concede to their unfair terms.

      • Peter says:

        If the individuals are unequal, one of them will trade to his own disadvantage? Why would he do that?

        “Benefit the other party more” is meaningless anyway, since you can’t measure how much they benefit in any way that makes a comparison possible. Even if you could, you’re trying to say one party might get 100 units of benefit and the other only gets 1, and this is “unfair”…well, you’re welcome to your opinion, but don’t confuse it with fact. It’s a fact that the guy who gets 1 benefit unit is still better off than if he was prevented from trading, so your claim of “untrue” is, well, untrue.

      • db0 says:

        If the individuals are unequal, one of them will trade to his own disadvantage? Why would he do that?

        Because he has no choice? Because he needs to eat and live?

        Are you being deliberately obtuse?

        “Benefit the other party more” is meaningless anyway, since you can’t measure how much they benefit in any way that makes a comparison possible

        How convenient that this would mean that all exchanges are fair by definition…

        Even if you could, you’re trying to say one party might get 100 units of benefit and the other only gets 1, and this is “unfair”…well, you’re welcome to your opinion, but don’t confuse it with fact. It’s a fact that the guy who gets 1 benefit unit is still better off than if he was prevented from trading, so your claim of “untrue” is, well, untrue.

        Yes, well most people can see the unfairness of the situation where one gets 1 unit and the other 100, even if the economists can define the it away.

        Point is, nobody uncoerced would accept this split, if they could get a 50/50 choice. The fact that they do is the indirect proof that coercion exists.

      • Peter says:

        Because he has no choice? Because he needs to eat and live?

        And that would make him trade to his own disadvantage how, exactly? He’s starving so he loses his mind? You’re claiming that a starving man who has a morsel of food would trade it for a ballpoint pen?

        Are you being deliberately obtuse?

        Not at all. Are you?

        How convenient that this would mean that all exchanges are fair by definition…

        You’re the one who brought up “fairness”. I didn’t say all exchanges are fair by definition…I don’t even have a definition of “fair”.

        Point is, nobody uncoerced would accept this split, if they could get a 50/50 choice.

        Nobody uncoerced would accept a 50/50 split if they could get a 90/10 split (in their favor), or a 99.9999/0.0001 split, either. So what? Obviously someone who could get a 50/50 split would aim for that…in the insane fantasy world in which comparing “benefit units” even made sense.

        (But what if you could measure it, and you discovered that you had it backwards: that the weaker party usually gets 100, or 1000, times as many benefit units as the strong party? That seems a likely outcome — after all, if the weak party needs the trade to live, the number of benefit units associated with staying alive surely outweighs whatever the other guy gets! So, really, we should be fair and take more from the weaker guy! That’s stupid touchy-feely “fairness”-based reasoning for you!)

      • db0 says:

        He’s starving so he loses his mind? You’re claiming that a starving man who has a morsel of food would trade it for a ballpoint pen?

        No, I’m saying that a starving man would trade a a golden ring for a piece of bread.

        Nobody uncoerced would accept a 50/50 split if they could get a 90/10 split (in their favor), or a 99.9999/0.0001 split, either.

        And since if neither party can coerce the other, they would have to settle for 50/50 or either would reject the deal. So in order to make any trade other than 50/50, you need coercion.

        Obviously someone who could get a 50/50 split would aim for that…in the insane fantasy world in which comparing “benefit units” even made sense.

        YOu brought it up. I just went with it.
        Of course we can talk with more practical terms. A worker who can work in a workshop to build an item that sells for 100$, must be somehow coerced in order to do the same for 20$.

        That seems a likely outcome — after all, if the weak party needs the trade to live, the number of benefit units associated with staying alive surely outweighs whatever the other guy gets! So, really, we should be fair and take more from the weaker guy! That’s stupid touchy-feely “fairness”-based reasoning for you!)

        Yes, you just replaced “You get whatever you want” with “You want whatever you get”. Very nice liberty indeed. But of course I’m talking about objective results while you’re talking about subjective.

        Which is of course why you’re simply caught in circular reasoning and can easily excuse people working for subsistence wage because after all, getting enough to eat is surely subjectively more valuable than dying!
        Of course missing the forest for the trees and not looking at why the worker only has those two choices.

      • Peter says:

        No, I’m saying that a starving man would trade a a golden ring for a piece of bread.

        No you’re not. You explicitly said he would make a trade that disadvantaged him. Getting bread when he needs food doesn’t do that.

        And since if neither party can coerce the other, they would have to settle for 50/50 or either would reject the deal

        Only if they were extremely stupid. Or anarcho-communists…but I repeat myself.

        A worker who can work in a workshop to build an item that sells for 100$, must be somehow coerced in order to do the same for 20$.

        Nonsense. If he could build the item without the aid of the workshop (which presumably belongs to someone else), and sell it for $100, why would he work there and accept $20 for it instead? Answer: because he can’t; he can only add about $20 in value to the materials and equipment provided by the workshop owner. You want to coerce the workshop owner into providing his $80 worth of value for nothing.

      • db0 says:

        No you’re not. You explicitly said he would make a trade that disadvantaged him. Getting bread when he needs food doesn’t do that.

        I honestly have nothing more to add to that. I leave this quote here as a testament of your inanity.

        Only if they were extremely stupid. Or anarcho-communists…but I repeat myself.

        Then I guess most humans are extremely stupid as actual experiments on this exact situation proved that people on equal standing would not accept a trade that does not approach 50/50

        Something which incidentally shattered the “homo economicus” nonsense.

        Nonsense. If he could build the item without the aid of the workshop (which presumably belongs to someone else), and sell it for $100, why would he work there and accept $20 for it instead?

        It’s funny. You almost had it but then you went ahead and made a totaly ridiculous assumption.

        Answer: because he can’t; he can only add about $20 in value to the materials and equipment provided by the workshop owner. You want to coerce the workshop owner into providing his $80 worth of value for nothing.

        Put aside the cost of raw materials and repairs for a minute. Assume for a moment that the worker brings the raw materials and the equipment will not decay. Why again would a worker be willing to work for less than the full value his end product would sell for?

        Remember that tthe “owner” of the shop is obviously not using it (otherwise he would earn the 100 himself). As such he’s not really losing anything.

      • Peter says:

        Then I guess most humans are extremely stupid as actual experiments on this exact situation proved that people on equal standing would not accept a trade that does not approach 50/50

        Once again, it’s impossible to measure each party’s gain. They can’t be compared! You can’t tell the difference between 50/50 and 99.9999/0.0001! And whatever it is you think these experiments are measuring (one party’s estimation of the gain to the other) doesn’t demonstrate whatever you think it does (aside from the proviso you quietly ignoring “people on(sic) equal standing”). On the one hard, you claim libertarianism won’t work because people won’t make “fair” trades, and on the other you claim experiments show that people do make fair trades. Schizophrenic much? And then you claim that someone who needs the trade to survive will fail to trade (i.e., will commit suicide) if it doesn’t seem “fair”. Suggest they up your meds.

      • db0 says:

        Oh man, I haven’t seen so much confusion about subjective value and exchange value before.

        By your definition, every trade is fair. By definition.

        Hey, even pointing a gun to your head and asking for your money is fair. How can you claim that the person giving the money is not making the better choice huh? After all, he prefers less money to death!

        On the one hard, you claim libertarianism won’t work because people won’t make “fair” trades, and on the other you claim experiments show that people do make fair trades.

        You’re getting exceedinly shrill as the argument goes on you know.

        Under libertarianism people won’t make fair trades because they will be coerced by their situation, similar to someone putting a gun to their head.

        The experiment I talked about was lacking coercion

        And then you claim that someone who needs the trade to survive will fail to trade (i.e., will commit suicide) if it doesn’t seem “fair”.

        Bring the Ghost busters! The giant straw-man is here!

        No, I didn’t say that they will fail to trade. I said that they will have to accept an unfair trade.

      • Peter says:

        (Oh, and note: if they were precisely equal, there would no reason for them to trade at all! The division of labor, and all cooperation among people, relies on the fact that they’re not equal!)

      • db0 says:

        There you go trying to equivocate equality with uniformity.

        People being equal would still trade because each of them would labour at their individual talents. Them being equal would mean that the trade would be fair.

  81. Michael Goode says:

    Shermer’s remarks are just excellent.

    • kabol says:

      i, too, rather like shermer, even if i don’t really care to debate politics/economics.

      although i will say, i’ve been to countries where no one pays income taxes and corruption actually does abound — and their roads and schools reeeeeally suck.

  82. August says:

    I read many comments by libertarians of this presumed “choice” in a free market; here’s a random quote;

    “If the employee could earn more money if she were self-employed (and thus keep the full results of her labour), clearly she would do so. Yet she chooses not to.”

    I will try to illustrate how this is not so, at least to my understanding:

    People are born under our current economic system (an employee based system, or let’s call by its old name, slavery). They grow up expecting to be an employee. That’s a fact. No regular kid (a kid whose folks do not own their own business) grows up expecting to start his own business, No, the mental image is to find a “good” job working for “some company, aka a bunch of rich folk who take 5 hour lunches”. Should these, now adult, kids miraculously realise that they are being “raped” out of their labour, they may start considering starting their own business. Unfortunately their competition are slavers, meaning they produce products usually at relatively low prices since they use slavery to create it (especially taking advantage of foreign emerging countries cheap labour).
    So with competitively pricing the independent small business will have difficulty, but that’s not the only issue. Since big business are able to rape so successfully, their profits are gigantic even after their executive “bonuses”, and the synthetic value of property increases since it is being “used” or “raped” so well. This means if you are a renter in a commercial zone, your rent alone might sink your business if you can’t “keep up” with the competition (naturally your landlord ends up being, predictably, the same big business rapists that you are competing with…since they like to diversify their portfolio and they understand that owning property is one of the keys to world rape domination).

    Lets say you miraculously manage to acquire your own property for your business, mortgage free (since if it where under a mortgage that’s not much different than paying rent since it’s the same 5 hour lunch folk who own the financial institutions who bargain your soul for the next 20 years usually with money that’s, strangely but predictably, not even theirs’ to begin with….)
    Now even though mortgage free, you still have to deal with commercial zone property taxes, which though not as much as rent, still ends up being an amount that the government gets by suggesting that you must pay what your competition pays and, since your competition are raping people to perfection, and making huge profits from it, your own property valuations will be “based on a rape system”, which is very crap and hardly reasonable, forcing you to attempt to run your business like “big business” and hence slowly “becoming” like the greedy amoral assholes that are all big business.

    This also means that you, as an independent, can never offer your product at a price that you consider sane, instead you have to bow to the “pressures” (the ones I mentioned above) of the current market (aka… a rape market), and charge probably quite a bit more than what even big business charges since you foolishly dared to imagine that you might own your own labour.

    Sometimes government may offset their “support” of big business by offering incentives or credits to the small independent, and make it a tiny bit easier here and there, which only illustrates the fact it is more or less understood that big business rapes the best, and its fair to “regulate”, even if shamefully its just a little bit, so that the independents suffer just slightly less than what they currently do. Regardless its seems clear to me that we need more regulation and a less “in bed with big business” government, not a libertarian free market, which we are pretty close to having anyway.

    The market place is bad enough under our current system. Maybe a libertarian might illustrate the events that that may follow for a kid under a libertarian market who dares to dream of owning his own labour.

    • Peter says:

      When you started calling employment “slavery”, you went off the rails. Get a grip.

      • August says:

        yeah, i suppose we should call being an employee a gift. yes a gift from our high and mighty betters. its wonderful when the big companies go under and the execs walk way without even feeling their screw-up, but the employee’s who, oops, are reliant on the day to day requirement to actually work for whatever their fraction is of the product that they are part of. Do i even need to add then that the tax payer has to provide the bailout so things don’t get worse in the economy. Yeah. i love being an employee.

    • tlav says:

      By your definition, is it not equally fair to say the employees are exploiting the employer? The employees take advantage of the employers need for employees. The employees can just as easily take their skills elsewhere or start their competing company. I’ve seen this in the real world when a friend and his co-workers grew disgruntled with their employer. They took their skills, along with the company’s customers, and started their own business putting the original business out of business. I’ve also seen this in the corporation environment when sales and service individuals take there talents to the competitor or start their own business. In a free market, the relation between the employer and employee is much more fragile then you seem to suppose. Just curious, now that my friend is one of the successful employers who must constantly ensure that his employees are happy with their compensation to prevent the same occurring to him, does he now qualify as one of the ‘bunch of rich folks’? If so, at what point does one become part of the enviable and disgusting rich folk group? Is it based on a ratio between assets and liabilities or is it simply that he employs other people that he is now an evil slave driver? When I employ my neighbor’s kid to mow my yard so he can buy a bike, does that make me both part of the evil slave class of employers and the good class of employed since I work for a corporation? How do I change my evil ways so that my neighbor’s kid can get his bike without me using what you define as slavery?

      • August says:

        i can agree but only if you concede that its rare for an employee to be in a position take advantage of an employer. Perhaps when then have a unique skill set or special circumstance present themselves. ie. opportunity. I’m glad for your friend. Sounds like he took the initiative and it worked out. But perhaps the employer’s business was not that big to begin with and thus being smaller is more volatile and hence the employee had a better bargaining position?

        But the bigger the business, the less your bargaining power becomes. the bigger the business the more the employee becomes faceless and replaceable. The more replaceable, the less value will be placed on that person, and on the value our culture puts on dignity, fairness and decency.

        Is it not the right of every business under a completely free market to attempt to become a gargantuan monopoly? you might suppose that the natural forces of the free market will prevent this….but since when? it hasn’t prevented it in our market, and we’re somewhat regulated.

        How do you not become evil? thats tough. underpaying a kid to mow your lawn, etc, is pretty much a cultural tradition. i recommend mowing the lawn yourself, if you can’t bring yourself to paying him fair compensation. Though fair compensation may be too much for a kid to use sensibly so give the remainder to his folks to put in a trust for him.

        what is fair compensation? its different for every employer. see, you measure the time the employee (kid) takes to mow the lawn, then take what you earn in that amount of time, and half it. yeah i know, that’s communist or whatever! watch out for the bogeyman! it is what it is. fair.

        but you have unique skills that are more valuable? great. use them to make money, and then mow your own lawn. wash your own car. clean your own house. lets see how much time you have to make all the money when you are bogged down with crappy jobs. or wait. i guess you could always get some slaves. they’re real cheap. they do all that work for a fraction of what you consider is fair for your time. some states don’t even have unions. the suckers.

        look i’m not trying to be insulting. if your business is still small. great. good luck being better than the 5 hour lunch crowd, and if so, i wouldn’t particularly count you amongst the socio-pathic employers of the world.

  83. db0 says:

    I think this post is showing that your comment system is a bit inadequate for long comment threads. For example, the css of this page is now not loading correctly (I guess because of the sheer amount of comments). The limit to threading makes long conversations difficult and harder to reply (as one needs to look for the “reply” button and it’s not easy to follow the conversation as there’s no email notifications available (and the rss feed limits this to 10 items).

    Can you please consider utilizing a better comment system? I would recommend Intense Debate personally. Here’s a post I made on why it’s better for long comment threads.

  84. William Patrick Haines says:

    Well atleast you embrace the sprit of first amendment in that you allow posting that disagree with your ideas . I really believe that libertarianism has flaws and tries support itself with exaggerated concepts of personal responsibility mixed and enhanced with blaming the unfortunate with undue blame and still tries to sneak in Social Darwinism try to try justify neglecting the less fortunate .
    Yes it also has a idealistic tone that acts like you will usher a golden age of freedom and opportunity for all . Well except that 10% of the population control 90 % of the wealth . To me the corporation already have too much card Blanche really would not the overall society in the least imaginable.
    I have some recommend sites below
    criticism of libertarian dogma
    http://world.std.com/%7Emhuben

    skeptical about pma
    http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-04-15
    idealism versus realism
    lhttp://www.chatafrikarticles.com/articles/1273/1/PLATO-VERSUS-ARISTOTLE-IDEALISM-VERSUS-REALISM-PHILOSOPHY-VERSUS-SCIENCE/Page1.html
    horatio algerio myth
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horatio_Alger_myth
    wealth gap
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_inequality_in_the_United_States

    social Darwinism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Darwinism
    http://www.waragainsttheweak.com/
    criticism of libertarian dogma
    http://world.std.com/%7Emhuben/faq.html

    • terry_freeman says:

      What a hodgepodge of straw-man arguments! Being a libertarian does not mean “blaming the unfortunate” – it means not taxing them, not taking their property, not throwing them in jail for using politically-incorrect substances or making their living in honest but politically-incorrect ways. It means not forcing them to attend crappy schools. Libertarianism means not using the force of the State to create monopoly privileges which shift resources from the poor to the politically-connected. (For example, thanks to non-libertarian tariffs and quotas, the poor pay much higher prices for food than they would in a libertarian country. ) What about this disturbs you?

  85. epicurus says:

    @peter
    That I am claiming repeatedly that there is/can be no true economics is all just a matter of your opinion. In my opinion, there is true economics but it may not be what you think it is. Von Mises and Rothbard are very good philosophers. The way they use epistemology and logic in economics is indeed creative and amusing. If we believe economics is science and objective reality, and not just the wild imaginations of philosophers, then we can give a scientific proof of libertarianism or whatever theory it may be.

    By scientific proof, I mean the theory must have very good fit with empirical data, can explain real world phenomena much better than other theories and have some predictive power that is statistically significant (much better than random guess). I will believe any economic theory that can do these consistently. If this is not possible, then the theory is not a scientific one because it is not falsifiable. It may be a mathematical theory, it may be a logical system, it may be metaphysics, but it is not science. Surely anybody can come up with all sorts of theories but as Wolfgang Pauli said, I don’t like your theory, it isn’t even wrong!

    • Peter says:

      That I am claiming repeatedly that there is/can be no true economics is all just a matter of your opinion.

      Not my opinion, as such; my understanding of what you’ve been saying — that’s what I said. I’m not a mind-reader; I can’t tell what you think you’re saying. (It’s also possible I’m conflating you with other posters)

      By scientific proof, I mean the theory must have very good fit with empirical data,

      OK…Austrian econ fits perfectly with empirical data.

      can explain real world phenomena much better than other theories and have some predictive power that is statistically significant

      And it does those things, too. Without, of course, predicting individual human behavior (physics can’t do that, either, so if that’s your criterion for “science”, physics isn’t science!)

      If this is not possible, then the theory is not a scientific one because it is not falsifiable.

      It’s obviously not falsifiable if it’s provable! Provable is a stronger requirement. The only reason falsifiability is relevant in, say, physics is that provability isn’t an option.

    • db0 says:

      OK…Austrian econ fits perfectly with empirical data.

      Baaahahahahahahaaaaa!

      That’s a joke isn’t it?

      Tell me, what does Austrian economics predict will happen when wages drop? How does Austrian economics claim prices are determined?

    • db0 says:

      Epicurus, if you want an economic theory which attempts to do it scientifically, you need to check out Marx’s analysis of Capitalism in Das Kapital. He started by observing how capitalism actually works and built his theory on that.

  86. epicurus says:

    @peter
    I’m sure you don’t expect me to take that by faith (this is a skeptic blog). But it’s better to prove it to professional economists without any political ideology (a rare breed?). If they are convinced, it would be perverse to withhold provisional concurrence. Falsifiability is a stronger requirement than provability. You can prove a theory by chance but you cannot disprove it by chance. If provability is our criterion, both Relativity theory and Newtonian mechanics are correct because they can both make correct predictions. But if falsifiability is our criterion, Newtonian mechanics will sometimes make wrong predictions but Relativity theory will not. Hence we know that Relativity is a better theory than Newtonian mechanics.

    • Peter says:

      I think you’re mistaking the meaning of “provability”. Making correct predictions is not proof. I don’t know what you mean by “prove a theory by chance” (I suppose you could conceivably chance to hit upon a proof, in a subject which is amenable to proof (mathematics and praxeology), but you’re more likely to chance upon a disproof, given there are more false proto-theorems than true ones [I suppose there are an infinite number of both, but ISTM the false ones are denser...])

    • Peter says:

      Oh, and no, I don’t expect you to take it on faith…feel free to check it out.

      (And please also take db0′s advice and read Marx — a really good bout of laughter is good for your health, apparently!)

  87. epicurus says:

    You’re thinking of mathematical proofs. In scientific theories, you prove by checking if it fits well with empirical data and if it can predict future outcomes. Fitting with empirical data and predicting outcomes can happen by chance so you’re not sure if the theory is really correct. But if the theory does not fit with empirical data and makes wrong predictions, you are sure the theory is incorrect. So there is greater certainty in disproving than in proving.

    I’m not a trained economist so I would rather let the experts do it. If I don’t understand it, I might dismiss it as crap. Even distinguished economists like Krugman dismiss it as crap but I don’t want to prejudge.

    • db0 says:

      Unfortunately “trained economists” are like “trained theologists” and have as much leverage.

    • Peter says:

      You’re thinking of mathematical proofs. In scientific theories, you prove by checking if it fits well with empirical data and if it can predict future outcomes.

      Indeed…but the only reason you need to do that is because you can’t do proper proofs (as in mathematics). If you could prove stuff, that would be much better than merely comparing to empirical data (which, as you pointed out with Newtonian mechanics, only gives you useful approximations…there’s no reason to expect to ever get to “Ultimate Truth” (whatever that means) that way.)

      But if the theory does not fit with empirical data and makes wrong predictions, you are sure the theory is incorrect.

      Sure…

      So there is greater certainty in disproving than in proving.

      …but that doesn’t follow.

      • Roy Edmunds says:

        What follows is that you look at the results. If it turns out that for every dollar your country earns you spend one dollar and seventy five cents you have a problem. America has been doing that sort of thing for a long time.

        ‘Globalisation’ in practice has been a less than noble race to exploit cheap labour where ever it can be found in the world. Cheap labour is more likely to be found in non democratic countries where workers do not have the right to form association. The economic model in those countries is based on coersion of the captive workforce. For workers to achieve some kind of fair distribution of wealth they must be able to form unions and be able to withdraw their services. Middle class workers generally don’t strike. So the economic model which created the middle class in America was based on the hard fought battles by the working class which created a basic wage structure as a starting point. Globalisation has gone a long way toward destroying the unions in democratic countries as the manufacturing companies moved offshore. Debt and deregulation have completed destruction.
        What we are seeing is a return to the nineteenth century capitalism which produced the environment requiring anti trust laws to be enacted in the first place. The primary problem with economic theory is that it fails to take into account the narccisistic nature of greedy clever humans. The next problem with economic theory is that since it has little way of quantifying the most important aspect of economics, namely the human factor, it is simply ignored. And legislators who take their advice from economists fail to regulate the market and hence we have CEOs raking off millions out of failing public companies because they can. Wouldn’t you do the same? If you had nothing to stop you? My father told me of a police strike which resulted in ordinary people smashing shop windows and hurling merchandise into the streets for other passersby to take. Why did they do it? Because no one was there to stop them.

    • Krugman is right in criticizing modern (neoclassical) economic theory, but not dismissing it out of hand. Newtonian dynamics were fine, and are fine, for most everyday physics but we had to wait for Einstein and relativity before we could account for oddities like the precession of Mercury.

      I was sitting in a Portfolio Theory class, laughing at the so called “evidence” and “proofs” of Black & Scholes. My professor’s response? “Give me something better.” This was even after the LTCM debacle (Long Term Capital Management), but I had to give him that point.

  88. intepid says:

    This one’s for the secessionists :)

    http://www.dailykostv.com/w/001336/

  89. Peter says:

    Why I am not a Libertarian

    My biased response to Shermer’s biased article.

    Shermer declares government is infringing on our freedom and the solution is to minimize or abolish government. From a practical viewpoint, it is unrealistic. Who will do government’s work? If we replace it with private corporations, then the corporations will become the de facto government. Is that better or worse? Instead of being accountable to voters (all citizens), the ‘government’ is now accountable only to a few rich stockholders whose goal is to enrich themselves at the expense of everybody else. Instead of being elected by the majority of the voting population, the ‘President’ is now elected by a 15-man Board of Directors. Instead of having a limited tenure, the ‘President’ now has unlimited tenure as long as he keeps paying his Board directors huge bonuses to keep electing him as President. And the Board directors can keep their positions as long as they keep enriching the stockholders. To keep this lucrative party going, the corporation must keep increasing its ‘sales’ (taxes) to the ‘customers’ (citizens). Corrupt government officials are now covertly and illegally enriching themselves. The corporation will enrich itself legally and declare to the world its goal of maximizing profit (tax).

    There will be many corporations but they will be foolish to compete with each other and lower their profits. Any president who entertains such evil thought shall be fired quickly. They will form monopolies so they can dictate their prices (taxes). They will abolish the evil Anti-trust Law. They can do that because they are the Legislature. If citizens complain to the courts, they will be defeated. The corporations are also the Judiciary. If the citizens protest in the street, they will be silenced. The corporations are also the police and the military. Lawmakers, judges and generals shall be appointed by the presidents of their respective corporations based on merit, which means protecting the interest of the stockholders. This is Utopia, for stockholders.

    From a philosophical viewpoint, Libertarians are egotists. They put their individual freedom and happiness above the good of society. Isn’t society composed of individuals? Yes. So what’s good for the individual must be good for society? No, because they are not all Libertarians. The desire to maximize one’s freedom and happiness is an individual right. It belongs to ethics – how one conducts his life to attain what he believes is good and moral. Extending one’s personal belief to politics is tantamount to forcing everybody to convert to your ‘religion.’ Communists insist the individual must glorify the state. Libertarians insist the state must glorify the individual. Both are attempting to impose a state religion. The state is the god of one. The individual is the god of the other. Libertarians believe it is the state’s obligation to maximize their freedom and happiness. If the state is not doing a good job at this, abolish it. Fortunately, many people don’t think like this.

    Many people are willing to sacrifice some freedom and happiness for the good of others and society. Libertarians will decry “we are altruistic but it must be our free choice.” Ask them if they are willing to pay more income tax so government can increase social welfare, they will say “no, that’s socialism.” Ask them if they will regularly donate 10% of their income to charity, they will say “no, that’s tithing.” Maybe libertarian altruism is giving spare change to beggars. It seems free choice is what they want not so much altruism. Okay we should not force them to give if they do not want to. But poverty is not a personal problem. It is a social problem. When poverty incidence is high, there’s civil unrest and threat of violent communist revolution. The whole society is affected. This is where politics must get involved, in social issues not in personal ethical issues. Maximizing one’s freedom and happiness is not a social problem, unless majority of the population is Libertarian.

    Libertarians keep whining that they are paying too much taxes, that big government is oppressing them, that society is suppressing their happiness and freedom, etc., etc. They seem incapable of being happy and free on their own they have to blame somebody (government) for their unhappiness and bondage. Why don’t they just go out with pretty girls (or boys) or do some charity to get their minds off their self pity? Most people will do something like that when they’re depressed rather than abolish government.

    • It’s almost as if there exists a “wave/particle” duality for ethics, law and politics! The good of the individual versus the good of the society or state. (I guess we would also have to add “versus God” into that mix, which is the “none of the above” option—virtual particles, anyone?)

    • Of course that makes me wonder if quantum “wave/particle” duality is a side effect of the way we humans process information in general, but that is another topic for another day and another forum.

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      Shermer most definitely believes in regulation. Read his required points again. His Libertarian stand point is highly qualified by non Libertarian provisos. Thats good. I like inconsistency. Life is inconsistent.

  90. terry_freeman says:

    I do not understand why self-avowed “skeptics” are so trusting of government-imposed education, and so unaware of the remarkable results accomplished by home-schoolers and free-market schools.

    James Tooley and Andrew Coulson, among others, have done considerable research into free-market education. Governments not only did not invent education, they actively discouraged education for centuries. It is only recently that governments coopted the field, the better to train people to Believe the prevailing orthodoxy.

    To promote skepticism of Received Authority, what better way than to cut loose the source of that “authority”, the regulations, the taxes, the demands that one must go to school for twelve years.

    Not all independent schools would reach the highest standards of scientific thought, but the same is true of the existing government schools. If we eliminate government coercion from the schools, however, the schools would be free to find better texts, better methods, and better teachers. Those which failed to improve would fail. Over time, the best ideas would win out. The “Received Authority” would lose. Prior to America’s first compulsory attendance laws, reading abilities were more widespread than they are now. Learning to read was so easy that several governments actually banned it for certain classes of people; for example, it was a capital offense to teach an Irish child; the Irish established underground “hedge” schools in response.

    Nowadays, governments seldom ban education outright; instead, they dilute the effects and render it harmless.

    • @terry_freeman

      I do not understand why self-avowed “skeptics” are so trusting of government-imposed education, and so unaware of the remarkable results accomplished by home-schoolers and free-market schools.

      “Trusting?” Why not? Government-imposed education has been, on the whole, beneficial over the course of the last century. Whether an alternative system could, or would have been better is a different question. Perhaps government-imposed education was necessary at a time when we (and all other industrial nations) were scaling our societies to a global level. Perhaps now, given the current societal scale, availability of communication, informational storage and computational technologies, and potential educational requirements of tomorrow’s citizen, our current government-imposed education systems is facing some efficiency plateau and is in need to replacement. Either way public education is the current “going in” position of success from an educational perspective. The burden of proof is on the private or home schooling educator to refute the Null Hypothesis that public education is indeed a desired expense and beneficial service for our country to regulate at the federal, state and local government levels.

      This is why self-avowed skeptics ought to be trusting of government-imposed education. Regardless of its degree of efficacy as compared to other possible choices, claiming that the educational system that has indeed demonstrated such tremendous success over the last century is in need of replacement is a Heck of a claim, which of course is going to require a Heck of a set of disproofs to before it can be rejected by the majority of voters in this country.

      This is also why the self-avowed skeptic should not run willy nilly into creating a Libertarian utopia, or anarcho-capitalist utopia or anything that isn’t too different from what has served us so relatively well for well over two centuries.

      • Peter says:

        Government-imposed education has been, on the whole, beneficial over the course of the last century.

        How do you arrive at that conclusion? Beneficial to whom?

      • Roy Edmunds says:

        One test of public (and private for that matter) education is to measure the number of people who were sounding warnings of the impending crisis which now threatens to relegate the once great USA to something akin to Italy after the fall of Rome.
        En mass like lemmings over the cliff. Reduces all your high minded (book learnin’) debate to so much empty rhetoric.

      • terry_freeman says:

        Peter says:
        May 17, 2009 at 12:40 am
        Government-imposed education has been, on the whole, beneficial over the course of the last century.

        Really? If we examine the mythology which passes for much of “social science”, we’d have to declare that government schooling is a public bad, not a public good.

        The professed goal of government education is “universal and equitable education.” The governments of the US of A have been heavily involved in providing government education for over a hundred years; by now, they should have worked out the kinks, and should be delivering that universal, equitable education, right? Alas, even the supporters of government schooling admit that there are vast differences in educational attainment, which correlate with a child’s socioeconomic conditions.

        According to research by NHERI and others, homeschooling students score about 30 percentile points higher than their peers – and this effect holds true for children of low socioeconomic status as well as for higher status. So, if we actually value universal and equitable education, we should abolish the failed institutions of the last hundred years, and promote home schooling instead; it has a much better track record, according to the evidence.

        A personal story. My son had some difficulty being accepted to a “gifted” first grade class; his artwork was deemed unsophisticated. Nonetheless, he came home a few weeks later to ask “what is 5-7?” — which took me all of five minutes to explain. He grokked the concept of negative numbers immediately. Another week went by, and he asked me “Do phones use electricity?” Of course they do. His “gifted” teacher said they do not. Only a few weeks into first grade, and already he had discovered two topics which his gifted instructor would not or would not teach properly.

        She was not a bad teacher, statistically speaking. Many parents thought she was doing a great job of “enriching the curriculum” for her gifted class. We decided that we could do a better job of enrichment at home, so we began home schooling. I never spent more than 15 minutes on a math lesson, nor more than two or three lessons per week; yet my children learned far more math than their peers did.

        Those who have taught college classes for decades will tell you that, far from “getting it right”, government schools are performing less well every decade; students often graduate from high school barely able to count change, much less cope with higher mathematics. It is no wonder that the job of a skeptic is so difficult in these times.

      • Peter says:

        Peter (that’s me!) didn’t say that. Nicole Tedesco said that. I disagreed.

      • terry_freeman says:

        Sorry, Peter!

  91. terry_freeman says:

    Regarding the commentator who claimed that libertarian altruism is but a trifle, your ignorance is showing. Libertarians can and do donate non-trivial amounts. I could recount examples which far exceed the tax bite, but I’m not here to pat myself on the back.

    That which you consider good – health care, education, roads, housing, charity – is considered good by many people. Government has no resources of its own; whatever it “provides” must be taken from others. Governments profit from taking what you have and giving it to others. Governments are also notorious for mismanagement – for greatly increasing the cost to provide services. In short, we have less of those goods and services than we would in a free society.

    To give one example: home schoolers and others have discovered that it takes far less time to educate a child well than the 6 hours times 180 days times 12 years mandated by the government. I have grandchildren ranging from 3 to 7 years old who read fluently, who enjoy math far beyond their years – negative numbers, fractions, decimals, binary arithmetic and cryptography. They are not chained to desks for six hours per day. They enjoy learning; they are not force-fed. No government school, even a so-called “gifted” program, can keep up with the curious mind of a child. Were these children in a government-approved school, their learning would have been diminished.

    If you read James Tooley’s research, you’ll find numerous accounts of parents of very limited means who greatly prefer free-market schools to government schools. You may assume that the poor would not be educated if there were no government schools, the historical evidence says otherwise.

  92. Peter says:

    To give one example: home schoolers and others have discovered that it takes far less time to educate a child well than the 6 hours times 180 days times 12 years mandated by the government.

    You’re operating on the mistaken belief that purpose of government schooling is to educate. Go read what the people who introduced it wrote about their purpose…

  93. Donald says:

    It’s interesting to see the divisions among Libertarians. Private property is sacred, but the government can tax you in order to supply certain minimum services, and this is where the trouble starts: what constitutes “minimum services”? It seems as if each Libertarian has an ideal in mind which probably does not match the ideal of very many others. But in the context of our two party system, these arguments are entirely theoretical if not ethereal. We skeptics can call ourselves conservative, liberal, anarchists or whatever, but when faced with the choice between the Democrat candidate and the Republican candidate, can we in good conscience choose the candidate of the party which embraces religious, anti-scientific values just because he may eliminate the estate tax?

    • Max says:

      It’s the economy, stupid.

    • Brian Macker says:

      Democrats espouse to be just as religious as conservatives. Obama was a member of a nutty racist anti-scientific church. The Clintons made a spectacle of their church attendance.

      I could go through a litany of nutty anti-science positions held by Democrats. The whole crazy Peta anti-animal testing, and anti-GM food nonsense as two examples.

      Besides Republicans are not libertarians.

  94. Orson says:

    THE trouble with skeptics and bias is MUCH WORSE than Shermer’s analysis admits. Consider these metrics of the US public: for DECADES, surveys have shown that there are around 50% MORE conservatives than self-identifying liberals. Therefore, if skeptics were to be representative of the public, they would have to be MUCH MUCH MUCH more conservatives among us.

    • tmac57 says:

      Orson- And if skeptics were to be representative of the public, there would have to be MANY, MANY ,MANY, more gullible woo believers amongst us too.

    • spurge says:

      Citation please.

      • tmac57 says:

        spurge- Are you honestly asking if there is any evidence that people in the skeptic movement are less likely to believe in what we term “woo”? That is weird just on the face of it.

      • spurge says:

        I was responding to Orson.

      • tmac57 says:

        Sorry,spurge, I got tripped up by the way this new threading system works.

  95. Roy Edmunds says:

    It always amuses me how academics love to parade their pre read theory, with glamorous shows of recall of authors long since forgotten in a rush to impress each other or more likely themselves with their acquired ‘knowledge’.
    Your only need is to open the door, step outside and get a load of that air. Or smog in most cities. And take a walk on the wild side. Buy any drug you can think of within a short distance of where you live, or firearm, line up for a job with thousands of others, buy something made in America that isn’t under threat, just buy something made in America come to think of it, (Honda is not American and neither is Toyota in case you didn’t know) and go see a movie that your Clint Eastwood made and just think a little. Its not about a motor car by the way.

  96. White Rabbit says:

    I need to get this book “Mind of the Market”. I think the free market plays a vital role in the mechanism that is society but I don’t think I totally agree with Libertarian ideals on this.

    I’m fine with offering up wants and desires to free markets but having been on the recipient side of this I’m very much in favor of nationalized medical, education and welfare. I’m also of the opinion that living in this society justifiably forces me and others to contribute to these things.

    Also where does all you’re money go? Here in Aus we barely spend more in tax than the US does, yet we have almost free medical, heavily subsidized education and pharmaceuticals and a very livable welfare system (all of which I have needed, used and more than paid back on). Certainly just the difference in medical insurance between our countries eats this up and more. This might be a strawman as I suspect the US isn’t really a libertarian economy (not sure what it is).

    However, having said all this if it works out that a change to the system to free up markets and reduce taxes really does lead to more benefits for people across the entire socioeconomic spectrum. Then sure I’m all for it. But if it’s just to promote the idea that I should have a choice to contribute or not then Nah, I’d prefer a system that works better.

    In short I’m all for mixed economies.

    Thanks for the article Shermer. I know a lot of people who disliked your ideas preferred you hadn’t raised it here but I’m still glad you did (I may never have got to read it otherwise).

    ^_^
    W R

  97. Roy Edmunds says:

    Hey, White Rabbit, fellow Aussie. What about Rudd setting about turning Aus into a quasi socialist state. Making it harder for Aussies to stay in private health and putting more pressure on an overloaded public system.
    Rudd who proposes to dismantle our time honoured industrial relations system.
    Rudd who is going into debt to prop up an economy which spends $1.75 for every dollar it earns.
    Australia with a trade imbalance of $600 billion.
    Australia with a private and business debt of some $2 trillion!!!! Not bad for a population around 22 million.
    Mandarin speaking Rudd who loves communist China. A country which sends its army to squash citizens who protest for democracy.
    And China a country which has a sizeable population of peasants who live as the peasantry did in mother England hundreds of years ago with an annual income around US$100.00
    Australia which doesn’t even have its own car industry.
    Australia with a growing unemployment going into debt to support service industries and importers to further widen our trade deficit.
    Australia with local industry rushing offshore to exploit cheap wages elsewhere.
    Rudd who is desperate to lower wages in Australia toward obtaining some parity with our beloved trading partner communist China. Good luck.
    Australia with an indigenous population which is about to be forced into reservations away from their tribal lands. And indigenous camps which resemble worse than third world standards. High infant mortality, incest, petrol sniffing, drug taking, violent drunken men bashing women and etc.
    Cities where it is dangerous to walk alone at night in some areas.
    We followed Clinton, and have re elected the equivalent to American Liberals at the worst possible time. It will be left once again to our conservative party to drag Australia out of a huge Federal debt which will still not address our primary problem which is the same as the USA. If you spend more than you earn, as a citizen, or as a country, you have to borrow. You eventually have to pay it back, or stay in debt just paying the interest. Eventually if you keep borrowing the interest becomes a major problem and your credit rating is downgraded and the interest rate goes up even further. So good luck Australia and America. Our fortunes are closely aligned.
    The global problem that Rudd speaks of is the problem that Australia followed everyone else who has made the same bad choices. Fortunately we had a conservative govt. for a few years and paid back the $90 billion odd debt which the previous socialist govt. ran up under Hawke and Keating. Sad state of affairs brought about by a combination of having a bullshit peddling scientistic load of ‘economist’no hopers advising politicians with an incredible propensity for choosing socialist philosophies in the face of obvious inhuman and anti environment standards of the hero country communist china.

    • White Rabbit says:

      Ouch, I fear it will take me more time to investigate each of those claims than I’ll have time for (There are several). whithout drilling too far (and thus is to be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism) I will try to loosly address your questions with my poorly informed opinions.

      Firstly as a significantly export driven economy, with one of our main export countries being China and the US it makes sense that a trade deficit might be correlated with a downturn in both markets. Also the droughts don’t help.

      We’ve just come out of a housing boom. I think the Private Dept is what might be colloquially called morgages. By this same token my family (and many of my friends, housing is expensive) are actually above average as private dept goes. This was true under the Liberal government too.

      As to our friendliness to China, refer to our “major trading partner” for details. Having said this I agree that holding the Chinese government’s feet to the fire for their internal difficuties would be nice. I don’t think it would make an ounce of difference though.

      The Aboriginal people have a heck of a lot of problems and have done so through several governments. I don’t have answers here, heck they don’t even have answers. I like what the Rudd government has done to acknoledge the problems (and even the government’s complicity in some of it). I believe you are mistaken about the reserves thing though, apart from everything the courts wouldn’t let him get away with it. References please?

      I don’t agree with everything the Rudd Government is doing, much like I didn’t agree with everthing the Howard Government did. I didn’t vote for either. I even liked Costello and many of his economic policies. Still I do find your comments unnessisarily biased. Also given the current times are markedly different from the boom times of the previous years. I would like to see specifics on what you feel should have been done differently? Also would a Liberal government really have acted much differently? How would it be better?

      What did you think of the actual points I was making? You know about the goals of a libertarian market, the value of a mixed economy, welfare, healthcare, education, that sort of thing?

      Also could you use the reply button, I don’t recieve notification otherwise.

      Looking forward to a reply

      ^_^
      W R

      • Roy Edmunds says:

        Hi White Rabbit.
        Just at random, I was listening to ABC radio and heard that funding and assistance was to be fazed out for many smaller indigenous communities and focussed on larger more easily accessible ones. This would according to the commentator cause these smaller groups to have to move away from their ancestral areas to receive any assistance. I can understand the economic reasons for this. But its tough. Also, listening to parliament, I heard that some of the decisions taken by Howard to open up the settlements has been reversed by Rudd. This means it is harder to keep an eye on what is going in some in the more difficult camps where the problems occurred which brought about the intervention. Very sad situation, but it showed that self regulation in many camps resulted in a night mare.
        I don’t think it has been a housing boom. Bubble is more realistic. The problem is complex. Women now being regarded as a work unit have lost their exclusive place in the community, except that they will be given some income for giving birth while losing the baby bonus. But the choices made by govts over the last forty years have removed the male as being the principle bread winner and this has meant that middle class Aussies go into debt for homes and life style as a team. This means that when one gets pregnant, usually the female, half the income approximately is lost for whatever length of time the woman is away from work. Which in turn sporned child care which in turn caused ABC and people invested in it and subsequently lost their money. The child care ‘boom’ in turn leads to latch key kids who grow up in many instances to assault cab drivers or run away without paying fares and fight to the death in night club streets in the early hours of the morning. In other words there has been a move away from traditional family values toward an emphasis on economic units producing wealth generally for it appears an increasing gap between the haves and have nots. According to the Aus. bureau of stats there is less equitable distribution of wealth now and the trend continues. This suits Rudd, and people like Costello who both admire their role in bringing the ‘poor’ chinese out of poverty.While at the same time increasing numbers of Australians and Americans slip into poverty.
        China being our principle trading partner is like having Adolf Hitler as an ally in 1936. Its obvious they have a huge population to supply stuff to and we have to take their stuff in return. We take everything they make because they can make it cheaper than we can. Because they are not a democracy and no unions exist to offer some balance to the eternal power struggle.
        Consequently, their workers put our workers out of jobs.
        Our workers look for service work, or work in mines. Meanwhile China woos African states to get what they get from our land at much cheaper rates. Incidentally, the stuff we mine was laid down some four and a half billion years ago, and will never occur again. So, when we deplete that over the next couple of hundred years where will we be then? Importing just about everything, or by that time will we have Australian peasants who work for the equivalent of Aus$100.00 per annum as they do in China now.
        You see, I don’t think Rudd or Costello (forget about the current Liberal leader) really have any idea how this globalisation experiment is going to pan out. They are dealing with problems as they arise from the original changes in direction and take the most obvious and easy choice. Since we cannot return to the era of tarriffs we have little choice but to reduce living standards in line with our principal trading partner. Earning more is simply not working. During the ‘boom’ we have still managed to run up an enormous trade deficit under successive govts. Neither Labor or Liberal have addressed that problem other than to take the measure to reduce our own living standards by stealth. Big homes are not an indication of living standards. They are an indication of debt. The two trillion debt I learned through an economist Steve Keene. He is an adviser for on line brokerage advice. He also pointed out that for every dollar earned Australia has been spending one Dollar seventy five cents. Not very smart to keep doing that for thirty odd years or more since Whitlam reduced tarriffs by 20% without any debate or discussion all those years ago.
        So choices made by Govt. have created a different world. A world that democratic govts. are struggling to understand and struggling to resolve without creating angry constituencies that China does not have any concern for because they don’t have to answer to the people. When twenty million Chines lose their jobs it is simply a matter of telling them to go home, there is no work. End of conversation. No compensation. No free health, no safety nets, no safety in the jobs like their own mines and businesses. So, does China play by the rules?? No, they do not. I am an investor. One company advised their investors (me being one) that China had its own way of cleverly controlling imports. And they used tarriffs by other names. And they simply banned loans for particular products, like BMWs when it suited them. Something democratic countries like Australia and America don’t do. Something about individual freedom there I think.
        When Pacific Brands went offshore. The Govt. asked, “is there anything we can do?” We were not told the reply by Rudd. But notice Pacific Brands shares are up. They are going to exploit cheap wages elsewhere in the world. And the company I invested in that gave me this report has closed down all its operations in Australia and opened factories in China, Slovakia and Mexico. They are still struggling against competition from Africa, which is subsidising the product in competition, and South Korea with cheap wages and no safety and God knows what other sneaky assistance from Govt. Australia has been naive. We think that somehow we are so advanced. We are clearly babes in the woods compared to China which has been trading for thousands of years. Did China invent the abacus, not sure about that. But China has a trade surplus and all care and no responsibility to its work force, and Australia have a trade deficit and no choice for its workers but to take ‘work choices’ or Rudds tribunal which amounts to the same down grading of incomes for ordinary workers. This is because in the world of finance there are clearly only two choices when you are pressed financially and youve borrowed to the hilt. Earn more or spend less. You can do both at the same time. It is left now to individual Australians and Americans to earn more or spend less. And as we are already stretched to the limit (working hours have increased markedly over the last decade or so) or budget for less expensive items. Which is why Aldi is catching on in Australia and Korean cars. The competition with Safeway and others is working in our favour to some extent. But generally speaking we are in for a tough time and more important, a different world. The world we are entering now is totally different from the one we have experienced in the last thirty odd years. We now have to pay the piper. We are faced with the reality of debt without the assets we sold to maintain the life style we had. There is little left of the public assets we Australians owned which has not been already sold by either party in govt. Our commodities are costly to mine compared to African states and so we are under pressure to sell them lock stock and barrel and allow china to do what it is doing in Africa. About one Chinese worker to four Africans. This way the chinese can keep them honest and save themselves a dollar. In return the Chinese agree to build some hospitals and Universities and lots of road to bring the ore to a port. No further tax or compensation required. So the chinese are far smarter at doing deals than we can imagine, and they will deal with absolutely anyone.
        We will be lucky to call Australia home, in years to come. The Chinese will own Australia without having to invade as was the fear in the fifties and sixties propagated by the DLP. Remember? Such is life.

  98. terry_freeman says:

    So many posts, so many demands on my time! Why do so many “skeptics” claim to know with absolute certainty that libertarians are every species of terrible, whereas the government is populated with angels who have nothing but the best of intentions?

    Libertarians are not indifferent to poverty. We are tired of suffering under a system which _creates_ poverty. We are not only the well-off. How can a self-respecting rational skeptic stoop to such absurd ad hominem attacks?

    The argument is rarely about ends. Libertarians value health, education, prosperity, and all the usual goods. The statist mantra “you must hate X because the State is the only possible way to provide X” is irrational to the max. Could any rational skeptic fail to cringe when reading such lame arguments?

    So-called “skeptics” leap to the defense of the FDA, without even considering that other countries don’t have our FDA “regulations”, and somehow manage to avoid poisoning their population. Wouldn’t a reasonable study examine alternative ways of doing something, instead of begging the question by assuming that the FDA is the only way to ensure the safety of drugs?

    Likewise for those who claim that libertarians must not value education. Gee, you never heard of private schools or home schooling? Research by NHERI shows home schoolers scoring 30 percentile points better than their peers in the government-controlled schools. Many distinguished scientists and philosophers had very non-traditional education.

    The more I read anti-libertarian rants, the more I believe there is a deep, widespread, unacknowledged religious belief in the Divine Rule of the State.

    Some ask, what would counter corporate power? I reply, corporations would have no power, if not for the government. One poster asked, what about water, which must be a monopoly? A proper skeptic would ask “Must water be a monopoly?” “Is water always a monopoly?” “What makes water a monopoly?” In most of America, tap water is provided by the government. But sales of bottled water and tap filters are enormous. Evidently, the government monopolies aren’t delivering what people want: something which actually tastes good.

    Another example, the phone monopoly. When ATT’s patents expired, thousands of competitors sprang up. This terrified ATT, who went to work lobbying for regulation to stop competition, to create a monopoly privilege, to get exclusive access. There was no “natural monopoly”; their position of power had to be created by the government. ATT provided one kind of phone in two colors; it weighed 20 lbs, and you had to rent it for $5 per month. Eventually, the DOJ stepped in to break up the monopoly, and consumers benefitted. We would have had a competitive market with lots of consumer choices all along, had the government not vigorously stifled competition a hundred years ago.

    Public Choice Economics turns the skeptic’s laser eye on the government itself and debunks many of the irrational myths and fallacies which support its actions; it exposes the degree to which special interests manipulate the system to their benefit, while claiming to serve the “greater good.”

  99. einniv says:

    Basically I believe in individual choice and responsibility. You make your choices and you are responsible for the consequences of those choices.

    And in what universe does that world exist? Here in the real world other people’s free choices affect people other than themselves. That is the crux of why your world view is so wrong.

    Surely the current financial crisis should be a screaming clue for anyone that didn’t already have one. The actions of people can have dramatic effects on other people that had nothing to do with those actions. This is true if you blame the borrows or the lenders or both. 6 million+ people are unemployed at least partly (and I would say mostly) due to actions of other people. So clearly their freedom has been robbed by the “free market”.

    This is the basis of all laws. I can’t just kill someone because I feel like it. I know you agree with that. All that is left is arguing over which items should be corrected for and which ones shouldn’t.

    What always kills me about guys like you is that you always argue in favor of corporations as you have done on this blog. A corporation, of course, is the biggest state intervention there is! A corporation at its core is limited liability entity that completely violates your call for “You make your choices and you are responsible for the consequences”. Not to mention that they can only exist through the grant of government. It is very hard to take someone serious who has somehow failed to notice this basic fact.

    It can be instructive to examine why they do exist and why we have limited liability entities in the first place. What would happen if you owned stock in say GM and when they get in to debt the courts show up at your door to take your house and car to pay for those debts? I mean after all, you are an owner of the company so its actions are your responsibility. Do you think we would have much investing? Of course not. Left to itself the market would see very low levels of investing and innovation (because “free” markets don’t have state imposed monopolies called patents). That is why I think it is so ironic to hear “libertarians” support corporations when they are the probably one of the biggest arguments against libertarian thinking.

    This confusion on your part , and inability to think things through, is no doubt why you can in one paragraph list mass education as a requirement of freedom and then a paragraph later complain about the government taking your property to pay for education. I have to say it is this kind of sloppy thinking that has caused this reader to reach the point where I don’t see Shermer the rational anything. I just see the kook who , like a stopped clock, is right twice a day.

    • stefw says:

      einniv said: “And in what universe does that world exist? Here in the real world other people’s free choices affect people other than themselves. That is the crux of why your world view is so wrong.”

      Perhaps you missed this part?
      Shermer: “Libertarianism is grounded in the Principle of Freedom: All people are free to think, believe, and act as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the equal freedom of others.”

      I think we would be idiots to assume that some of our choices would not *affect* others. The key word here, though, is *infringe*. If we don’t want people to infringe on each others’ rights, will we really be in any better shape giving the government free reign to infringe on those rights? Does an impersonal self-preserving entity like government have the right to define a “common good” and force everyone to compromise their individual beliefs and personal possessions to promote that idea?

  100. Roy Edmunds says:

    @Einniv,
    Hi there, that quote of Shermers you allude to is pretty general and does apply to a CEO of a private or public company who is subject to the rule of law as required under Shermers list of prerequisites to freedom.
    I agree with your next arguments. Particularly as they apply to Governments with a mindset for change and de regulation. Like Clintons. He embarked on social change initiating even greater adventure into the irresponsible world of debt on debt on bubbles of fanciful equity values guaranteed only until the bubble burst.
    I guess we will never know what Bush may or may not have done because of 9/11 which virtually sabotaged his administration.
    The attack has set in motion something which I believe was cleverly designed to precipitate the pursuit of the Taliban. Iraq was a bonus for them. Like the USSR in Afghanistan you run the risk of going broke before you can ‘win’ the war.The choices others make as you say do affect us all.
    As for the limited liability, it works for anyone who uses it within the law. As far as investment is concerned you are a part owner of a company which has some tax benefits but just like a bank that loans a business money, if the business incurs some horrendous debts and goes belly up the bank loses its investment and does not become liable for the actions of the company directors. So I am grateful for that piece of sanity. Public companies engage in the competition for loans from the public or any investor group on the companys terms. They attract cash on their own terms because it is cheaper than borrowing from other lenders who demand regular cash returns and interest at regular intervals. Dividends vary, and sometimes are suspended. But I digress.
    Patents. Good to those who deserve compensation for their hard work. But sometimes it is less than honourable to hold some patents and deliberately pigeon hole them because the patent threatens some other investment. Thats business.
    Free enterprise or private enterprise is qualified by rule of law. Consumers need protection from dangerous goods or services. So, semantics play a role in Shermers arguments as do the limits of his statements. Because he is in favour of certain freedom of action or choice does not imply that he is in favour of freedom to do anything. That has to be taken as read I think.
    I think the anti trust laws are designed to protect certain freedoms while limiting others actions which are judged to be restricting other individual freedoms unfairly. But this refers to the rule of law which Shermer requires.
    So I agree you cannot kill someone etc. etc. And Shermer would agree with all that and has stated so in his numbered basics.
    I agree we are all affected by other peoples choices. And in turn we make counter choices to mitigate the effects or take advantage of the effects of various choices by other folk or governments and their various agencies. Where we observe the efficiency of some public business, their choices give us confidence to place our money with them as part owners of the company. And as you say, if the company goes belly up, we are not liable for anything more than the loss of our investment. This is like a bank in one regard. A bank may lend the same organisation money but is not liable for debts incurred by the company but loses the money it has loaned unless it can recover something through the companys’assets if any.
    Shermer says he is a libertarian but I suspect he throws something into the ring with a wry and cunning smile knowing he will stimulate debate which enriches us all.

  101. terry_freeman says:

    Chris – and others – claim that education is too expensive for poor people.

    James Tooley ( google it ) documents how very poor people all over the world _choose_ to support free-market education, even when government education is available. Real world-examples of people doing something trump theoretical musings about what they cannot do, any day of the week.

    Several claim that libertarians are all upper-middle-class people who can afford to do whatever they like. This is total nonsense. I, and many other libertarians, are or have been at the lower end of the economic spectrum. This is not an argument about class. It’s an argument about whether people should be free to live their lives peaceably; it’s an argument about whether mega-monopolies funded by coercion can ever be as efficient as market-based institutions. It’s an argument about whether the mythology promoted by the government is truly a “public good”, or a self-serving means to perpetuate its own power. Google “public choice economics” for some ideas on that topic.

    Back to the NHERI reports on home schooling. They find that the income of the parents is basically irrelevant to the outcomes. You surely know the extensive research which shows that the income of the parents is highly relevant to predicting performance of children in government schools. To really understand market-based schools, you’ll have to discard a lot of what you know about government schools; it does not apply. Home schooling and free-market schools do a _better_ job of equalizing opportunity than government schools. That’s the facts, deal with it.

  102. stefw says:

    Michael, I really enjoyed reading this. As both a skeptic and an active Libertarian, it does seem to me that anyone who would call himself “skeptic” would be naturally skeptical toward any political claim.

    It is my understanding–from the definition of what it means to be skeptic–that a skeptic would observe historical facts and logic before accepting any idea, and recognize that it is a politician’s job to manipulate information to promote that idea. This is especially true when the politician stands to gain (in money or in glory) from the implementing of that idea.

    As a skeptic, as much as a libertarian, I immediately call to question any promises made by government to reduce its size or to implement plans that will truly help all people. For reducing government, that goes against a government’s natural self-preserving instinct. At what point would government would reduce itself if there is no benefit in doing so? For helping the people, I would be skeptical that any attempt by a politician to “help people” through political action was not also designed to further that politician’s career.

    The current Demopublican Duopoly on the U.S. government perpetuates the growth of government and the removing of freedom from the people. I am wondering if is going to take another revolution to get things back on track toward liberty.

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      The major problem for the USA is the same as that for Australia. Debt. Huge DEBT. Horrendous debt. Debt you cannot get your head around. Debt that is bigger than the universe. Debt that strangles your choices, limits your actions, destroys your integrity.
      It is not rocket science. You look at what is causing the debt. Change your behaviour. Stop spending. Earn more. As a person, as a country thats all you can possibly do once you have borrowed and borrowed and borrowed right up till the crunch finally arrives. Trace back all the choices, all the de regulation, all the introduction of new methods, to see where you went wrong and gradually change again toward the desired objective. There are still people who do not have credit cards, who save up and pay cash for everything!! They are not worried. So there you are, the answer to life. No debt.

  103. Mike Huben says:

    “Smart people believe wierd things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons. ”
    Michael Shermer, Scientific American: Smart People Believe Weird Things Sept. 2002

    Shermer is no exception to his own rule.

    Shermer’s non-smart reasons are his VALUES. Which differ from those of most people (libertarians are a tiny minority.) While we may share some values (including, roughly, his list of 12), there are plenty we don’t have in common. Such as whether it is more important to provide a decent life for everyone, or whether it is more important to preserve the rights of people who own property. While libertarians may claim otherwise, Shermer clearly comes down on the latter, conservative side. Add another few values, and libertarians like Shermer are a tiny fringe minority.

    And like most people who pretend to do philosophy, he adopts a great deal of post-hoc “reasoning” that defends his values by claiming they are moral, scientific, biological, or whatever. Much of which is think-tank generated propaganda, and has nothing to do with science or skepticism.

    If you want skepticism of libertarianism, check out my web site. It’s going on 15 years now.

    • terry_freeman says:

      If “conservatives” support the status quo, then the label should apply to those who are terrified of examining their assumptions that the government is the best way to “provide a decent life for everyone,” in the face of copious evidence that most government programs are a Public Bad, not a good.

      Perhaps Huben is ignorant of a) James Tooley’s research into the private provision of education for the poor in 3rd world countries; b) the extent to which a lack of property rights and rule of law make it difficult for poor people in undeveloped countries to advance. Those countries often have vast natural resources and lots of very bright, motivated people. They remain undeveloped for a reason, and not for lack of government intervention into their society.

      Closer to home, examine the numerous criticisms of so-called “urban renewal” programs, which bulldozed the heart out of so-called “blighted” neighborhoods which were – for all their flaws – more successful than the projects which replaced them. If Huben were to spend some time actually talking to older folks at the lower end of the economic scale, he’d discover numerous examples of how government intervention has made their lives worse.

  104. Roy Edmunds says:

    The demographics show that the fastest growing “group” is the Muslims. Just through the inevitability of gradualness and their vastly superior population growth rate they will inherit many countries in generations to come. In some instances they will constitute a sizeable minority in a very short number of years. What this means for the future is anyones guess. But our society, that is the culture of democratic America and Australia will change and we have to accept that. Our population growth is simply not sufficient for our culture to continue unchanged. In Australia we have an ageing population and amongst the “traditional” Australian families the population growth does not replace the parents.It is somewhere between 1.7 and 1.9 approximately. This is why migration is important. But if you have groups which come into the country who have no intention of “assimilating” but “teaching” the host country a new way of living then obviously you will have gradual cultural change. This happens anyway regardless of whether the migration “assimilates” or not since the new migrants bring cultural ways which are adopted by the host country and enrich our lives. The question is whether the changes offered are compatible. For instance Muslim women may learn that democratic America or Australia offer them more opportunities for personal development than the restrictive practices imposed on women in some Moslem countries. However, numbers eventually count where there is a stronger point of view in some direction. If you look at communist China, a relatively small proportion of the population hold supreme power over the majority. Violence, intimidation, jail. For instance in China there have been about 17 lawyers who have had their “licence” to practice NOT renewed by the government because the government simply did not approve of their work, much of which was defending civil rights disputes in court. So cultural change may come about imposed by minorities with power. Tianenmen square (spelling?)was end of the democratic movement in communist china. Or was it?

  105. sduford says:

    This is the last Shermer article I ever read. The man who introduced me to skepticism and rational thinking has fallen over the deep edge. That’s 10 minutes of my life I will never get back.

  106. Alex says:

    QUOTE: :Regulation is the reason tobacco companies had to stop advertising and selling to children. You seem to throw out regulation as this all-encompassing boogie man that stifles everything. It’s an oversimplified, idealistic view and it’s simply wrong.”

    And you have no problem with the idea that the States deciding for people, what they can put in their bodies? How’s about this: maybe let people decide that for themselves. I know it’s just such an unfathomable concept to statists that people should have the liberty to make choices which affect themselves. The article was spot on in point out how statists so often hate the idea that people should have the freedom to make mistakes and to make bad choices.

    I’d love to know if you would also support banning children from eating at fast food places which can have serious health repurcussions. If you do, that pretty much tells me which category I would put you in: that of dangerous individual who needs to be fought tooth and nail, because you believe in taking away liberty.

    Yes, I take exception that type of regulation. I think that is very much an example of a “bad” regulation, and not a good one. I consider it an extremely perniscious regulation, as it is regulating the freedom of one to make their own choices about their own health, where there is no competing liberty interests (or there would be no competing liberty interests under libertarianism, as there would be zero socialized medicine forcing the public to pay for the conseqeuences of bad health choices). Why you think it is the states role to decide for others what they can ingest, I just don’t know. The simplest answer is, you are a statist.

  107. A Reply says:

    Michael made the remark that he thinks that the Skeptical community leans left, as if it is a strange, or controversial idea.

    While Michael is out “researching” something so pedestrian as that, he might want to try and explain why most Scientists tend to lean left.

    It’s a simple equation: People who are educated, and interested in science are often Liberal, or they tend to lean left. Liberal communities tend to place greater value on these interests than either Libertarians, or Republicans do. It’s the very reason that many Conservatives demonize Academic communities, Scientific research, and the arts.

    Also, if you believe in God, then it’s very easy to see the advancements in science as contrary to your belief system, so there’s greater interest in suppressing, or mischaracterizing scientific research.

    However, I’m sure that Michael would love to provide us with yet another loosely compiled thesis that we can purchase at our local bookstore for a reasonable fee.

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