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Left, Right & Center

by Michael Shermer, Jul 07 2009

Liberals, Conservatives & Libertarians

In last week’s post I mentioned my trip to Santiago, Chile, for a conference on evolutionary economics hosted by Alvaro Fischer, in conjunction with the year-long series of celebrations of Darwin’s 200th birthday.

The three main speakers at the conference were Ullrich Witt, a liberal economist from the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany (part of the old Iron Curtain East Germany), Kevin McCabe, a conservative economist from George Mason University, known for its free market leanings (unlike most universities and colleges in America), and myself, a “radical for liberty” (pace Ayn Rand’s self-description as a “radical for capitalism”). Our talks were formal, professional, and technical, but the lively action was in the table talk over meals. I very much enjoyed hearing the opinions of these learned economists, even while vehemently disagreeing (mainly with Witt). Since McCabe and I mostly agreed on everything, I’ll briefly summarize Witt’s lecture, which I think explains how he and I differ on the issue of the collective v. the individual.

Witt’s Lecture

Ullrich Witt’s talk was entitled “Animal Instincts and Human Sentiments: On the Origin and Evolution of Economic Institutions.” What is an institution? Do institutions have something in common? How similar/different are the post office, the government, or the law? Does a Darwinian perspective help us understand the origin and evolution of institutions? Yes. Proto institutions arose in early hominids: instinct based and subject to natural selection and adapted to the environment. How do we know? No fossils! Observe higher animals to infer what most likely developed in early hominid bands.

For example, hunting requires cooperation, and many mammals employ joint chasing tactics (conventions), have a set of rules about feeding dominance/subordination, show rules for food sharing, and the like, and these are all examples of proto institutions (genetically fixed, shaped by natural selection, adapted to survival conditions similar to those of early hominids).

The scope of cooperation in social situations is constrained by social structures. Proto institutions in proto humans probably began with coordinating hunts, uniting to fight against rival clans, etc. Observational learning is a way of transmitting knowledge and cultural adaptations in interactions and these proto-institutions. Genetically based forms of proto-institutions emerged in human evolution to ease the coordination (when conflict is absent) through recognizing self in others as well as the intentionality of others.

Cultural success accrued to populations when we needed to settle down and make the transition to agriculture. It was here, during the Neolithic Revolution, that informal institutes spontaneously emerged from our genetic architecture for cooperation. Formal institutions must be purposely created for the coordination of behavior in interactions. Natural domination leads to proto institutions as a way of preventing others from contesting domination (thereby preserving the domination rent from competition).

Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” is an institute grounded in a social contract that legitimizes authority and enforces constitutional constraints on personal power. This governmental leviathan was necessary as populations grew too large for informal institutions to be effective in governing behavior. The concept of human rights is a radically new social model deviating from inherited dispositions and yet presupposes nonetheless formal institutions with coercive power.

At Wit’s End with Witt (and other liberals)

At the core of our disagreement, I think, are several fundamentals: Witt emphasizes the institution, the society, the collective. I emphasize the individual, the person, and the fundamental rights of the individual from abuses and usurpations of the collective—what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of the majority” and for which our founding fathers brilliantly constructed the Bill of Rights. The danger of collectives is mob psychology. It is so easy to convince ourselves, especially when we are in a group, that we are right and “they” are wrong.

Most liberals would agree with me on this point (I’m socially liberal myself, agreeing on free speech, separation of church and state, pro-choice, etc.), but would differ on what the individual has a right to. Here I make a distinction between liberty rights and benefits rights. Liberty rights are the rights we have not to have our liberties taken away from us: the right to believe what we want, the right to free speech, the right to protest, the right to practice whatever religion we want (or even not to practice any religion at all!), the right to own private property, the right to a fair trial, etc. At the core of liberty rights is what I call the Principle of Liberty: the freedom to think, believe, and act as we choose so long as our thoughts, beliefs, and actions do not infringe on the equal freedom of others.

Where I (and most conservatives) disagree with liberals is on the issue of benefits rights, that is, the right to have certain things given to individuals by the state: the right to an education, the right to a living wage, the right to paid vacations, the right to three square meals a day and a roof over our heads, the right to retirement pay (Social Security), the right to healthcare (Medicare and Medicaid and whatever is coming next), etc. I think people should have the liberty to procure these benefits themselves without interference from other people or the state, but the problem with the state granting them as “rights” is that someone has to pay for all these benefits, and that someone is all of us, adding the always inefficient government as a middle-man to deliver these goods and services, which can almost always be done more efficiently through the private sector.

A Solution to the Left-Right Dilemma

One conceptual solution to this left-right difference has been nicely outlined by the University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt through his model of morality that allows us to avoid being trapped by what he calls a “moral matrix.” Haidt argues that there are 5 foundations of morality:

  1. Harm–Care (do not harm others, people should be cared for)
  2. Fairness–Reciprocity (justice for all)
  3. In-group Loyalty (we live in a dangerous tribal world so we need group unity)
  4. Authority–Respect (a free society depends on the rule of law and law-and-order)
  5. Purity–Sanctity (conservatives: sex, drugs, rock’n’roll; liberals: food, environment)

In a study encompassing over 23,000 subjects from countries all over the world, Haidt found:

  • Liberals are high on the Harm-Care and Fairness-Reciprocity dimensions, low on Loyalty, Authority-Respect, Purity-Sanctity.
  • Conservatives are about equal on the 5 dimensions (slightly less on Harm-Care and Fairness-Reciprocity, much higher on Loyalty, Authority-Respect, Purity-Sanctity.
  • Liberals question authority, celebrate diversity, keep your hands off my body. Liberals speak for the weak and oppressed, they want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos.
  • Conservatives emphasize institutions and traditions; they want order even at the cost of those at the bottom. Edmund Burke: “The restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights.”
  • Liberals and conservatives both bring something to the table. Libs and Cons as yin/yang.
  • Vishnu the Preserver (stability–conservative) and Shiva the Destroyer (change–liberal).

Haidt cites a study by Ernst Fehr and Simon Gachter, (“Altruistic Punishment in Humans,” Nature, 415, 137–140, 2002), employing a cooperation game in which people can give money into a commons. When there is no punishment for “free riding” (not giving but receiving the benefits) they discovered that cooperation decays fairly quickly within the first 6 rounds. But in the 7th round Fehr and Gachter allowed the subjects to allocate some of their money to punish free riders, and this they did, which immediately triggered a rise in the levels of cooperation and giving. Conclusion: it helps to have some sort of punishment to encourage people in big groups to cooperate.

One of these sources of control and authority and punishment is religion. The other is government. Conservatives prefer the former, liberals the latter. The problem we libertarians have with both institutions is that our moral minds evolved to unite us into teams, divide us against other teams, and convince ourselves that we are right and the other group is wrong. And that has dire consequences, from 12/7/41 to 9/11/01.

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Left, Right & Center, 3.4 out of 5 based on 46 ratings

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176 Responses to “Left, Right & Center”

  1. Max says:

    All this talk about rights. Are rights God-given, or are they just a useful concept?

    • tmac57 says:

      They come from the social contract of the ethic of reciprocity.

      • Rights are self-evident as they exist within you. Each is born ignorant, free and naked. Rights are what you are born with, the existence of such is not dependent upon others.

        Your derivation for how these are “given” from within is irrelevant except to those who seek to impose their personal agenda on others.

        Societal reciprocity can be developed if people act from the idea of “my choices at no cost to others without their consent”. Owning your choices, being able to respond to your choices, along with this contract of reciprocity, creates the byproduct of integrity and upholding freedom of others.

      • tmac57 says:

        “Rights are what you are born with, the existence of such is not dependent upon others. ”
        I’m sure that would have been a surprise to all who suffered in slavery at the hands of “others”.

  2. Max says:

    The problem we libertarians have with both institutions is that our moral minds evolved to unite us into teams, divide us against other teams, and convince ourselves that we are right and the other group is wrong.

    Libertarians would never convince themselves that they’re right and everyone else is wrong ;-)

  3. Al Thomas says:

    “In a study encompassing over 23,000 subjects from countries all over the world, Haidt found:
    Vishnu the Preserver (stability–conservative) and Shiva the Destroyer (change–liberal).”

    Is this blog Shermer’s idea of a “Skeptical Joke”?

    • Nathan Phillips says:

      I think that this concept was probably brought up in the study. The correlation between the Vishnu/Shiva distinction and liberal and conservative is a lot like the difference between the Aesir and Vanir in Norse Mythology. I associate the Aesir who ar conscerned with war and magic (military and religion?) with conservatives, and the Vanir, who are gods of gold and fertility (social security and WICC?) with liberals.

  4. John says:

    Aren’t benefit rights “rights” for liberals because the idea of pursuit of these rights never panned out? Didn’t the haves, the ones with benefits, suppress the have-nots (although without trying)? Statistically speaking it would seem that there would be many who could never get to the point of pursuing benefit rights.

    • DangerMouse says:

      It is often the have-nots that suppress themselves. Take healthcare as an example: it is the exhorbitant cost of malpractice insurance that raises the cost of healthcare to the point which many people who would otherwise be able to afford it, cannot. And the doctors must vigorously pursue payment simply due to the high costs of remaining in business.

      A benefit-rights mentality results in what we already see… people who feel that not only are they “owed” their benefits, but they are owed them without any mistake, ever, and without ever accepting personal responsibility on their own part. It is often they who soil the watering hole, to everyone’s detriment. But hey, if you’re taught to blame “the haves” for holding you down, why bother to understand the facts?

      These days, altruism is often priced beyond the reach of those who are in a position to provide it.

      • Hman says:

        The cost of health care is a result of a feedback loop of higher costs pushing more people out of the system, leaving a smaller group to subsidize the whole of the system. Additionally the uninsured seek care at ERs, driving costs up. I think it has been shown that lawsuits (and malpractice insurance) are a small fraction of the cost.

      • DangerMouse says:

        Tell it to my former business partner, who was an M.D.
        Nearly 50% of his operating expenses were malpractice insurance premiums alone. Today he sells sports memorabilia; it’s not cost-effective to practice medicine.

      • Mike Fraley says:

        Your implication is that the have-nots are -responsible for all the lawsuits. My guess is the lure of easy money is universal to all economic classes and that lawsuits arise from the have-nots, have-barely-enoughs, have-somes, have-plentys, and the plain old haves as well. Easy money is easy money, and this particular problem cannot be blamed on the poor alone.

      • DangerMouse says:

        Mike, the lure of easy money appeals to the greedy,
        and the greedy are ALWAYS those who class themselves
        as “have-nots”… that’s a defining characteristic
        of greed.

      • Mike Fraley says:

        You’re not seriously suggesting that there are no greedy rich people who also consider themselves above the rest of us, ie haves, are you? Also… no large group of people, such as an entire economic class, or ‘all greedy people’, are ALWAYS anything. The behavior we identify as greed crosses all economic boundries and all social classes.

      • DangerMouse says:

        I’m not saying that all have-nots are greedy (quite
        obviously), nor that you or I would class the
        upper-class greedy as have-nots. I’m saying that
        regardless of their socioeconomic status as measured
        in objective terms, the greedy class THEMSELVES as
        have-nots in the sense that they feel they are “owed”
        or “deserve” that which they have not. They focus on
        the things they perceive they lack, discounting those
        things that they have (often in excess).

        The idea that NO group is “always” anything is quaint,
        Mike. And somewhat humorous, I might add, in that
        you’re using an absolute to argue against absolutes.
        Eschewing such subtle intellectual hypocrisy, I
        acknowledge that absolutes do, in fact, exist. Humans
        are always mammals, for instance. Feel free to argue
        that to your heart’s content.

        Again, I’m not saying the greedy ARE have-nots… I’m
        pointing out that they, for whatever psychological
        reason, consciously or not, place themselves in that
        category. This does not contradict the idea that they
        may also believe themselves to be superior. To the
        contrary, such belief could fuel the idea that they
        “need” or “deserve” more than “common people”.

      • Danny says:

        Could it be the exorbitant cost of Mercedes and 10,000 sq ft houses that raises the cost of healthcare? Because somehow the doctors are able to purchase those lavish status symbols in spite of their onerous malpractice insurance costs. Until I see doctors living a modest lifestyle, as most of us do, I can’t sympathize with your characterization. Doctors should ask themselves, Do I want to heal people or live like royalty?

      • DangerMouse says:

        Danny, here in Union, SC, I can personally introduce you
        to an entire hospital, as well as two nursing homes,
        staffed with doctors who live modest lifestyles. Nor do I
        have to bring you here to do that. There are doctors in
        practically every town who fit the description of selfless
        provider, who work in clinics, as as interns, and
        internationally as with Doctors Without Borders.

        While it’s really easy and fashionable to criticize people
        who are “lucky” enough to have spent decades of their lives
        actually getting up off their duffs and working like
        Trojans to get to where they are, I’ll point out that
        MY PLUMBER makes as much as my doctor. There’s nothing
        wrong with that. Both individuals are willing and capable
        of providing scarce services. The plumber is simply willing
        to do a dirty job and saved his cash to get his license and
        start his own business. The doctor invested ten years
        of his life and hundreds of thousands of dollars in his
        education, just to get to the point were he could begin to
        practice medicine. Because of that, he started off with a
        lot more debt than the plumber, and malpractice insurance
        premiums make his operating expenses far higher.

        Your inability to step outside your comfort zone to
        recognize their efforts says far more about your problems
        with class envy than it says about the true and accurate
        state of our healthcare system. Or plumbing, for that matter.

      • DangerMouse says:

        BTW, I’m a little intrigued by the false dichotomy there at
        the end. Why can’t doctors heal people AND live well? After
        all, for their patients they extend life and improve the
        quality of same, cure hurts, repair physical damage, and
        sometimes bring their patients back from the very brink of
        death.

        I’m interested to learn what justification there might be
        in someone’s mind to deny them the very best that our
        society has to offer.

      • Nathan Phillips says:

        Doesn’t the fairness/reciprocity dimension of morality dictate
        that we should support social programs if others have done so in
        the past. Is it not a form of responsibility dodging to declare
        that we are only going to aknowledge liberty rights, when we are
        already in an institution that has incorporated benefit rights
        form many years?

      • DangerMouse says:

        Rephrased: “Do two wrongs make a right?”

        Answer: No.

    • John says:

      Also, it is hard to separate these rights – the problem is benefit rights are often the practical requirement to exercising liberty rights. How many times in human history have people erected artificial barriers to exercising one’s rights so they could claim that they grant full liberty rights. Poll taxes are an example of actively obstructing the exercising or rights without overtly denying them. There are many ways to passively deny rights, too (e.g. for voting rights – simply put the polling place in a remote location).

      It is all well and good to say that we support the right to pursue happiness – but it is empty if we also support the law of the jungle and allow the exploitation of the weak.

  5. Chris Howard says:

    So with regard to what we do with this information…. ummm, how do we use it on a pragmatic level? A beneficial level? It reminds me of the blind men touching an elephant story, one’s feeling the leg and says it’s a tree, one the tail and says it’s a snake etc.
    I think the biggest problem is that ideologies, specifically the ones you don’t talk about during dinner, pigeon hole people on a cognitive, as well as emotional level. In a world were variables that effect our lives change constantly, no one ideology can encompass everything. In other words, as things change so to should our theories, in order that they best represent the truth, or if you will, the reality of the current situation.
    Right and wrong should only enter the equation if, like everything else, the evidence supports the conclusion.
    Part of the problem is not in the answer, per say, but also in our perception, and subsequently how that colors our questions i.e., operational definitions.
    An example of this is the fact that Socialist countries have greater economic upward mobility (from poverty) than the United States, but you won’t ever hear of this statistic because we’ve been conditioned to believe that socialism is a four letter word and demonic at best. In other words, we won’t even ask the question because we’ve made an ideological assumption that has become unfashionable to pose i.e., “Is Socialism viable in the United States?”
    An other example of bias in the U.S. tends to picture Big Bureaucratic Business (private sector) as “Good” while Big Bureaucratic Government is “Bad.” Both institutions seem to have the ability to do good or ill, so why do we, with knee jerk precision, deify one and vilify another?
    It’s because we’ve been conditioned, perceptually, to be biased towards our favorite personal narrative, which may or may not resemble reality in any way shape or fashion, regardless, it’s still bias.
    So back to my original question: “What do we do now?” Is there a good reason that scientific methodology wouldn’t work in politics? Would it take too long to reach a decision? Is politics too much about ego and ideology to be about either Rule Utilitarianism or Original Position?
    I dunno? Please, some one who knows better alleviate me from my ignorance.

    • Max says:

      “Is there a good reason that scientific methodology wouldn’t work in politics?”

      Science is positive, not normative. Science says smoking causes cancer, not smoking should be banned.

      • Chris says:

        It seems to me that science and politics are polar opposites in that politics is a popularity contest and science is not (sometimes at great expense for the scientist). Perhaps this very nature of western politics is born from democracy, and a totalitarian regime might be more able to appy scientific methodology to politics (assuming such a regime would be evolved enough to apply the methodology correctly and with rigor).

        Also – in reacting to your point about upward mobility among the impoverished. I recently (a year ago) saw statistics published by the Economist magazine that indicated otherwise. It stated the dynamics of upward mobility as follows: upward mobility among the poor in the United States is the strongest in the world. This is often neglected because the upward mobility of the wealthy outpaces the mobility of the poor by a great and increasing margin? We clearly have a have vs. have-nots gap problem in our country, but our poor are still faring better than others.

  6. Jim says:

    The problem is you think the right to own property is a liberty right.
    Property rights are taken by the State through violence and war and granted as a benefit to certain citizens. Property rights are maintained by army, police, laws, and lawyers. Property rights are themselves a abstract construct created by the collective. Of the rights you listed as liberty rights I believe property rights are fundamentally different from the others. I believe we should have property rights. But they are clearly a benefit right and therefore should be regulated like other benefits.

    • Gordo says:

      Indeed, and some of the ‘benefit’ rights he describes are actually responses to people interfering via power relationships to take things (time/money) from others.

      My problem with libertarian arguments is that they make some simplifying assumptions that do not jive with reality. Government is not the only power structure. There are millions of ‘private’ power structures that act more aggressively than the government in taking away rights. And with the world as crowded as it is, almost any right that you have infringes in some way on your neighbor.

    • Ray L. Walker says:

      The major difference between a free man and a slave is the right to property. A sandwich in the hand of a beggar is private property. A slave is property and can not own himself. A free man owns his body and determines its use.

      All mankind, by nature of their existence and the requrements necessary to maintian it, have a right to life, liberty and property. Deny me any of these and you can deny me all of them. When anyone claims a right, the question is at whose expense? If you can force me to support your needs, provide you with benefits, you then support a form of slavery, coerced labor.
      Socialism, democracy are legal forms of lynch law applied to property. America is a federal republic, not a democracy, a euphemism for mob rule.

      As to doctors and medicine. Why would any competent mind submit to a grueling 16 yrs of expensive schooling and have to submit his life to the decisions of the mob as to whether his return on his investment is obscene. or accept a position as a government serf, to be ruled by the whims of political moods?

      Personal liberty persuades competent people to be productive. Envy moves the non productive to bribe politicians with promised votes if they will but tax the productive, a minority, to provide benefits to the lazy and the non productive.

      If charity has any moral merit it only has merit to the extent it motivates a free man to empathize with the deserving needy and voluntarily offer help. There is a moral requirement that we support our values. If you value all mankind, then act upon that, but don’t come to my door with a gun to force me to support your values. That denies me the means to support mine.

      Gov’t is coercion. It is therefore incumbent upon moral actors to make sure that government is restricted to a very narrow chore, as well outlined in the U.S. Constitution, not in some mob desire to coerce the productive to support the whims of the majority. We had that in the South at one time. Jim Crow and its predecessor, slavery.

      • Jim says:

        The major difference between a free man and a slave is the right to property.
        No, a slave is property.

        A sandwich in the hand of a beggar is private property.
        We are not talking about consumables here. We are talking about resources like oil, coal, natural gas iron, trees, land etc. It sounds like you relish the idea of orphans, the elderly, sick, handicapped, begging in the streets hoping someone less lazy comes along to give them a sandwich.

        A slave is property and can not own himself. A free man owns his body and determines its use.
        OK. Nobody is advocating slavery.

        All mankind, by nature of their existence and the requrements necessary to maintian it, have a right to life, liberty and property.
        No they don’t. The “nature of your existence” doesn’t grant you rights nor does “requirements to maintain it”.

        Deny me any of these and you can deny me all of them.
        The government can take every thing you have, imprison you, and kill you. It has an army, police, lots of guys with guns. The point is to have a government that serves the people.

        When anyone claims a right, the question is at whose expense?
        If the answer to that question is “somebody” then it’s not a right. It is a benefit.

        If you can force me to support your needs, provide you with benefits, you then support a form of slavery, coerced labor.
        What do you call it when the federal government goes into a territory kills all the natives takes their land and gives it to the white male citizens in a land grab for free. Since when have the impoverished masses forced the wealthy landowners into slave labor. Trying to equate billionaires paying a higher percentage of their income in taxes with slavery is ridiculous.

        Socialism, democracy are legal forms of lynch law applied to property. America is a federal republic, not a democracy, a euphemism for mob rule.
        Your mama wears combat boots.

        As to doctors and medicine. Why would any competent mind submit to a grueling 16 yrs of expensive schooling and have to submit his life to the decisions of the mob as to whether his return on his investment is obscene. or accept a position as a government serf, to be ruled by the whims of political moods?
        I think people (like doctors) who work hard should be well compensated.

        Personal liberty persuades competent people to be productive.
        Personal liberty probably helps a little bit. Fair compensation helps a lot. A desire to be a productive respected member of society helps a bit too. Threats of torture, starvation and death can also motivate people to be productive.

        Envy moves the non productive to bribe politicians with promised votes if they will but tax the productive, a minority, to provide benefits to the lazy and the non productive.
        A lot of things can cause people to become non-productive, war wounds, accidents, illness, old age. The idea that “the productive” are a minority is wrong. This caricature of society you seem to believe in is surreal. You seen to think a small percentage of people work really hard to produce all the wealth in society while vast hordes of lazy greedy evil sloths plot to take all the wealth from the few. In reality we live in a society where a newborn child can own more real property than the average person could buy if they saved every penny they ever earned working hard for forty years.

        If charity has any moral merit it only has merit to the extent it motivates a free man to empathize with the deserving needy and voluntarily offer help. There is a moral requirement that we support our values. If you value all mankind, then act upon that, but don’t come to my door with a gun to force me to support your values. That denies me the means to support mine.
        I do value all mankind and I am acting on it. Your values hurt mankind. That’s why I need to come to your door with a gun and force you to support my values.

        Gov’t is coercion.
        Government is about reciprocity. You give some. You get some.

        It is therefore incumbent upon moral actors to make sure that government is restricted to a very narrow chore, as well outlined in the U.S. Constitution,
        form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty

        not in some mob desire to coerce the productive to support the whims of the majority. We had that in the South at one time. Jim Crow and its predecessor, slavery.
        Your attempts to equate progressive taxation with slavery makes you seem delusional.

        I don’t believe individuals should be rewarded for laziness. Life is not fair and the world doesn’t owe you anything. You rights and responsibilities are granted to you by the government and the law. It is my belief that in a just society that maximizes liberty all citizens should have available a very minimal standard of living. Essentially a cot in a barracks with a shared bathroom, a bland and monotonous but nutritious diet, minimal health care, and a good education. I also believe the best, most just way to finance this, and the other things government must do, is through progressive taxation. Of course if every individual was given the same opportunity and no one was gifted with large sums of money for reasons that have nothing to do with merit or how much they contributed to society then I’d be cool with a flat tax.

  7. Drew says:

    I’ve thought about this left-right dichotomy a lot. Some people think of it as two-dimensional, with one dimension being the degree of government interference in social issues and the other in economic issues that are acceptable. That strikes me as merely a difference in tactics though.

    It seems to me that there’s an underlying psychological issue. There’s a range of predisposition to fearing the unknown. Conservatives would be on the end of fearing the unknown more and liberals less. Conservatives (I’m stereotyping here) want everything to be ordered and stable, while liberals want to rearrange things on theoretical grounds and are comfortable with that kind of uncertainty. In politics, this tends to mean that conservatives want to preserve existing hierarchies (male over female, majority religion over other, white over non-white, dare I say humans over animals?) while liberals want to upset them. By this way of looking at it, some libertarians are conservatives and others are liberals, and a lot of them fall somewhere in between. Libertarianism seems to presented as a more intellectual alternative to these attitudes, so it’s no surprise to me that skeptics and other bright folks are drawn to it in greater numbers.

    That doesn’t make it right of course. It’s a value judgment mixed with good or bad tactics, and the jury is most definitely out on the proper alignment of both sides of that mix.

    • Max says:

      If the liberal/conservative scale just measures fear of change, then liberals in the US may be drawn to communism, and liberals in North Korea may be drawn to capitalism.

      But when you say that liberals want to upset hierarchies, you’re back to the two-dimensional coordinates. Do the “liberals” want to upset the social or economic hierarchies? If both, then you’re just calling libertarians “liberals”.

      • Drew says:

        I’m talking about psychological predispositions, not explicit philosophies. “Liberals” are more comfortable upsetting hierarchies, but it doesn’t mean they want to upset them all. The libertarians who are less afraid of change have usually come to believe either that the rich/poor hierarchy is acceptable or that a libertarian economy will upset the rich/poor hierarchy (by encouraging upward mobility, for example).

    • Darin the K says:

      “….dare I say humans over animals?”

      ….where do these fruitcakes come from? Give him some of those drugs Jocko ate

  8. jrpowell says:

    The problem with libertarians is that they argue from invalid premises. Pragmatically there is no distinction between “liberty rights” and “benefit rights”. The long sordid history of human affairs has shown us that both can be withheld from individuals by the collective, or even a powerful minority.

    My view is that societies should provide as many benefits to as many individuals as possible. The minimum being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our society is certainly rich enough to also provide fair courts, a stable economy, public education, healthcare and development of new frontiers in space.

    • DangerMouse says:

      You yourself argue from invalid premises. The difference between liberty rights and benefits rights are clear and unambiguous.

      “Life” and “Liberty” are not things that you can provide a person — not with money, not with the most strenuous application of your will and effort — but they most assuredly can be taken away. They are not provided by our government, though they can be guarded by it.

      That is not true of benefits rights. They are conferred.

      • Don says:

        Then property rights most certainly are not liberty rights!

      • DangerMouse says:

        I never said they were… however, they logically follow
        from “Liberty”. The things which you have earned, or which
        you yourself have created, directly proceed from your
        exercise of your right to Liberty to create and earn. Your
        personal property was not conferred upon you by the State;
        rather, it is the result of your own efforts. Therefore it
        has far more in common with liberty rights than benefit
        rights.

        To the extent that property ownership is a benefit right,
        the government exercises eminent domain, which should and
        usually does work as follows: even if the public interest
        CLEARLY outweighs your right to property ownership, the
        government will not simply take the property, but will
        offer just compensation. Even in the case of eminent domain
        your right to the value of that property, representing
        the fruits of your labor, is conceded.

      • DangerMouse says:

        Keep in mind as well that the fruits of your creativity are
        yours only temporarily. In the United States, we are granted
        by the Constitution and by law, copyrights and patents that
        can and do expire. This is a clear case of the government
        balancing the public interest against personal rights.

        Also keep in mind that “intellectual property” is not
        exactly the same as “personal property” ownership, in that
        the sharing of an idea does not remove it from the
        originator. (It’s a bit like love… there’s always more
        to share.) In order to capitalize on such a creation, it
        must, by necessity, be shared. Nevertheless, the sharing
        does diminish the creator’s ability to further capitalize
        on his creation; thus copyrights and patents are conferred
        by the State to encourage invention and creativity.
        Therefore patents and copyrights are more like benefit
        rights than are physical property rights.

      • John Powell says:

        Um, my life was conferred upon me by my parents, and liberty is conferred by my society.

      • DangerMouse says:

        Not in the United Stated of America, John.

        “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

      • Nathan Phillips says:

        I see the relationship between benefit and liberty rights as more
        complex than this. Freedom indicates an ability to do something.
        If a man is in extreme poverty, he is actually no more free to
        run naked through a community than is a rich celebrity. However,
        the rich celebrity is more free to drive an escalade blaring music
        through the neighborhood. Extremes in situation lead to extremes
        in politics. How free is a person who has to dodge missiles and
        avoid roadside bombs on the way to work? How free is the person
        who cannot afford to drive anywhere? How free is the person who
        has had his or her company taken from him/her by a government?
        I see people as having many needs, and the extreme deprivation of
        any of them leads to new and extreme political stances.

      • DangerMouse says:

        It’s not complicated, Nathan. You’re simply making it so.

        A man without an Escalade can’t drive one, true. Personally,
        I’d love to learn to fly, but it doesn’t therefore follow
        that society owes me a personal aircraft, any more than I
        should complain about not having been born with wings and
        hollow bones.

        We start with what we start with. That is neither our fault,
        nor society’s. So long as we hold to the principle that we
        should be free to pass on the fruits of our own offspring
        (and I see no reaons why we should not), there is exactly
        zero chance whatsoever that everyone will start off with
        exactly the same resources, the same environment, and the
        same talents to work with. It doesn’t even happen in
        completely communistic environments. What you imply as an
        ideal doesn’t even exist in principle.

        Regarding war, the alternative to those missiles is to
        simply give up our freedoms without a fight to those who
        have already expressed the willingness to take them by
        force. One never preserves freedom by throwing it away.
        While it is personally tragic for children who are born in
        conflict, in a broader sense it is not unfortunate at all
        that they are born to a society that values their liberties
        enough to defend them with their lives.

        Regardless of our circumstances, we are all free to make
        the most of what we have, to increase it as we can, and to
        enjoy it to the fullest. Or NOT, as we’re inclined. Wants
        and desires can be powerful motivators of productivity.
        Seeing a great car should be a motivation for working hard
        to acquire one of your own… not an excuse for taking
        someone else’s or denying them their own opportunities, or
        making “society” give you for free what others worked so
        hard to acquire. This is a powerful life lesson that those
        who espouse an extreme socialistic agenda get completely,
        absolutely wrong.

        Wants and desires are not NEEDS, Nathan. The right to
        pursue happiness is not a guarantee that it will be
        achieved.

      • DangerMouse says:

        In the third paragraph, that should read
        “…fruits of our labor to our own offspring…”
        There are probably other typos. Oops.

    • Kevin says:

      A caricature of liberals is that they want the government to do as much as possible. I don’t want that.

      I want the government to provide the things that the free market can’t provide as efficiently – whether those things are liberty rights or positive rights makes no difference to me.

  9. plob218 says:

    I think this is a pretty even-handed look at the differences between people on the left and right. I’m not saying it’s comprehensive or that I agree 100% with everything said, but there is a minimum of vitriol and a genuine effort to outline both points of view fairly. That’s hard to come by in political discussions. Well done, Mr. Shermer!

    • tmac57 says:

      The vitriol will soon follow in the comments section.Stay tuned.

      • plob218 says:

        Yeah, I hear you. When half the comments go something like “the problem with _______ is _______,” can defensiveness be far behind?

  10. Bart Schaefer says:

    The labels “liberty rights” and “benefit rights” create both a false perception and a false dichotomy. Aside from the arbitrary examples (I consider myself a political and social liberal, most of the time, but I don’t believe there is any such thing as a “right” to have paid vacations), private property is as much a benefit as anything else you’ve excluded from the “liberty” category.

    Many of the things you’ve lumped under “benefit rights” are more properly viewed not as individual “rights” at all. Education, for example, is not for the benefit of the individual; any benefit to the individual is a side-effect of the real purpose, which is the improvement of society as a whole. An educated person is less likely to need or desire violate any of the so-called “liberty rights” of another person and is more likely to contribute something of value.

    Similarly health care and housing are not so much individual benefits as collective ones. Read a few of Phil Plait’s anti-anti-vax postings and think about the concept of “herd immunity” as it extends to the common cold, dysentery, cholera, plague, etc. — any of the diseases that are helped to spread by the existence of “unwashed masses” and which most of us now have no need to worry about.

    Most libertarian positions seem to me to miss the bigger picture, that there are only two ways to preserve your “liberty rights”: by force or by cooperation. What you ask for is cooperation without consideration, and in the long run that cannot stand.

    • Chris says:

      Right on Bart. I would even go one step further to say that benefit rights aren’t just about societal improvement, but “preservation.” A healthy society is the real goal, and those with more have more to lose when the systems fails along lines of education, health etc…

      It’s not a liberal or conservative approach. It is a pragmatic one. Balancing the role of the collective and the individual is one of the great challenges we face. Polar views which prioritize one against the other are just not practical.

  11. aaron says:

    I agree with Chris Howard and Bart Schaefer, a large mechanism for the intractability of positions on the left and right is in simple language misscomunications. I say misscomunications, but I can’t help but feel that the words used to label larger ideas and sides are built to suit. An obvious example is ‘pro-choice vs. pro-life’ … its very easy to see that ‘life’ trumps ‘choice’ on an abstract, priciple level, the flaw is the assumption that it is a zero sum question, that being pro-choice some how implies anti-life.

    The same for ‘liberty rights’ vs. ‘benefit rights’. Surely everyone holds an abtract and firmly rooted positive value of the concept ‘liberty’, rooted in deep moral confidence, vs. ‘benefit’… this is a foolish and false faced framing of an important debate.

    • MadScientist says:

      That reminds me of this institution of stupidity and oppression called “Liberty University”; “if it’s got ‘liberty’ in the name, it must be good”. I wouldn’t call it miscommunication; I’d call it deliberately misleading wording.

  12. Tuffgong says:

    Not to stick my claw in a place that might mangle it but it seems like scanning the comments reveals either various responses and a debate over “liberty right” over “benefit right”.

    Land ownership and owning goods has been the basis of humanity’s economics from the beginning. The simple idea of ownership hell even extends into the animal kingdom. I can concede and say that the right to owning property is in the middle. As a right based in our biological and sociological history, it fits within our evolutionary tradition as do the other liberty rights. However the mere happenstance of a physical definition existing in a larger system of regulated society means it also could fit into benefit right.

    Usually liberty rights are individual in nature (as far as its language and nuance) and benefit rights are collective and societal. It turns out that property ownership could technically fall into both categories.

  13. Beelzebud says:

    If only Shermer viewed his own libertarian views through the prism of being a skeptical thinker.

    Libertarianism isn’t “better” than liberalism or conservatism. It’s a personal opinion and choice.

    Again, the point of this blog is lost…

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      Do you view your political views and comments on Libertarianism through the prism of critical thinking? If not….

      the point of your response is lost..

      From my perspective, Shermer does use critical thinking!

      TryUsingLogic

  14. Brian M says:

    Prove to me that rich individuals actually give a … about the “lesser folk” and I will listen to this. Your position is purely academic until you can prove that in the real world.

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      I think the discussion is about liberals and conservatives….not rich or poor people. I just saw an article where Joe Biden gave $312 to charity last year. On the other hand rich people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet give overwhelmingly…
      “Arthur Brooks, the author of “Who Really Cares,” says that “when you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30 percent more.” He adds, “And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.”

      And he says the differences in giving goes beyond money, pointing out that conservatives are 18 percent more likely to donate blood. He says this difference is not about politics, but about the different way conservatives and liberals view government.”
      http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=2682730&page=1

      TryUsingLogic

      • Tom K says:

        How’s this: Liberty as in “the individual” is necessary.
        Property as in that which “the individual owns or consructs”
        is probable. And there is the constancy of occurrence of either in joint, direct or inverse relation to the other, relative to the greatest common general circumstance of indiviuduality or ownership and the least common individual result of individuality and ownership integration.

        This is essentially what civilization does. I think it is an accurate generalization, but of course there is more that needs to be said.

        The thing is, I wish the argument could proceed along these lines

        Tom K

      • Tim says:

        I disagree. To take the position that necessity is to be decided upon is inherently a collectivist premise. I find that operating from first principles is the proper method of analyzing, well, anything.

        Perhaps you should consider what is necessary for individual human survival, material production, and sustenance and then move onto organizations and groups of people. Remembering that civilization stems from the individual is vital to understanding any civilization. Civilization is a means of serving the individual, not the other way around and therefore to consider the individual “necessary” is in my opinion to miss the point.

  15. plob218 says:

    “Land ownership and owning goods has been the basis of humanity’s economics from the beginning.” I’d be careful about painting in such broad strokes. Depending on what you mean by “ownership,” “humanity,” “economics,” and “beginning,” you could be wrong on every count. Nomadic tribes would find that statement utterly ridiculous.

  16. Kallan Greybe says:

    This particular left-right distinction as one between freedom and equality is to me getting a little tired. As a thorough going Liberal I personally see the whole issue as solely being about freedom the only difference is that I’m not naive enough to think freedom in the Libertarian sense is anything approaching freedom. The Liberal view instead says that there are certain requirement that have to be met before anyone can be said to have any freedom worth having. The Libertarian view is damn the powerless to hell and protect the old boys club. Quite frankly, no thank you.

    • Philippe says:

      When you mention “certain requirements” I cannot but think about the concept of good governance, be it in economics, business or politics. It is a sanest approach to the problems arising from having people with different viewpoints coexisting.
      I can also see one side of the Libertarian view exposed in its extreme form in the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade!

      • Kallan Greybe says:

        Philippe
        In my view “certain requirements” strangely enough look a lot like Human Rights and classic Liberal Safety Net policies. I’m curious if those are the sorts of things you mean when you say good governance.

  17. Chris Howard says:

    Just out of curiosity, isn’t property, at the very least, within the confines of the United States ultimately based upon theft? If so, how can any concept of land ownership be legal? To be fair, I should confess that half of my family is Cherokee and Sioux, so I may be a bit bitter, but I digress. ;-)
    Politics, sadly, is largely about framing the issue. If I said we’ve come up with a system that you pay into and when you get sick it takes care of your healthcare costs, am I describing socialized medicine or health insurance? Language frames the issue and helps shape thought, which further reinforces the belief. If I say the function of business is to maximize profits, is that true? Just because we agree on an abstract i.e., the framing doesn’t mean that it has to be that way or is even necessarily true. We could just as easily agree that businesses goal is to provide goods and services while bettering the community it functions in. As a matter of fact one had a business charter only so long as they could prove that the endeavor was beneficial not only to the proprietor but also the community. The only reason it is no longer like this is because we’ve framed the argument in a certain way and made other possible areas of exploration taboo. In other words, certain entrenched ideas (cultural and largely a particular school of economic thought) have been mistaken for the only game in town or the “Truth” when in reality it is just another thought on the matter.
    Language and thought are synonymous, don’t believe me, fair enough. Don’t think of an elephant. Politicians know this all too well. The language is designed (I know because I used to get paid to design it) to trigger a response and reinforce a frame. Republicans are far better at it than Democrats.
    “Tax relief” frames the argument by causing the listener to make the inference that taxes are a burden, with out having to come out and actually say that one views taxes as a burden. This gives politicians a certain amount of deniability, wiggle room.
    So, why is any of this important? It’s not, but this is what it comes to, time and time again. Rather than focus on what can be known and improved for all we become seduced by our ideas and then it becomes… well, about something else.
    When we let an ideology become so powerful that it denies evidence then it is no longer serving us, we become slavish sycophants to it, and to our own egos.
    There is a school of thought in sociology, Functionalism, that posits that you need strata in a society in order for that society, any society to work. Here’s the thing, I don’t use the theory to rationalize away those who starve on their feet. It may be that we do in fact need lower-classes for our society to work, however that doesn’t mean that those at the bottom need suffer so that I get by.
    Dr. George Lakoff’s work is something everyone should read to better understand framing and language in politics. I have worked for republicans, democrats and everyone in between, from local to state wide politics (and in Texas) and all of them, without fail, are in it because they believe that they can make a things better, it is faulty logic and adherence to ideas (very much like those who are religious) that ultimately brought them down.
    Faith, wether sectarian or secular, is a liability, not a virtue.

    • Steve says:

      Chris-
      Is your point that because your description doesn’t distinguish between insurance and socialized medicine, they are the same? A four legged animal with fur, pointy teeth and claws could be a tiger or a poodle. They are definitely very different even though the description describes both.
      The average person doesn’t need framing of the phrase “Tax Relief” to feel that taxes are a burden. Even if taxes are necessary they are a burden.

      • Chris says:

        Chris – love your notion about ideas as parasites that cling to our minds and make us prisoners of our own beliefs. Have you read Robert Fritz?

        The irony of this reality is that ideas (unchallenged) restrict fundamental human freedom. As an advertising guy I know well the power of ideas, and I can confirm (like you) that they are all about wordsmithing and “spin.”

        The good news is that in the rapidly evolving media/advertising environment words are taking the back seat to “experience.” People have easy access to the facts – the info – and are making purchase decisions on a more rational basis. A different kind of functionalism that you described, but functionalism nonetheless.

  18. MadScientist says:

    “but the problem with the state granting them as “rights” is that someone has to pay for all these benefits, and that someone is all of us, adding the always inefficient government as a middle-man to deliver these goods and services, which can almost always be done more efficiently through the private sector”

    I’d like to see some evidence to support that assertion. There is no apriori reason for the government to be ‘big’ and inefficient; it tends to grow that way due to the huge disconnect between legislation and sensibility and poorly thought out “solutions” which only increase the burden (not only on government agencies but private corporations and individuals as well). At any rate, I’d like to see examples of products or services supplied by the government which are more efficiently supplied by the ‘private sector’.

    “Conclusion: it helps to have some sort of punishment to encourage people in big groups to cooperate.”

    Gee, no prizes for stating the obvious here. As an employer, I’d love to kick out the bum who doesn’t pull his own weight – but the government makes that difficult. How about groups where the bums run the show and bully the folks who actually do the work? I don’t see how changing economic frameworks would fix such problems.

    • Bryan M says:

      USPS vs FedEX, that is a pretty good example of private sector beating out the govt.

      • MadScientist says:

        Really? How do you come to that conclusion? I use FedEx a lot for some international stuff, but it sure costs. I use the USPS as much as I can.

      • tmac57 says:

        I second MadScientist’s opinion here. People really need to get over this knee jerk “everybody knows” attitude that the USPS does a poor job. It just does not fit the facts.

      • Peter says:

        Try USPS vs. American Letter Mail Company…

  19. Manny says:

    Although this very interesting perspective on economic models is well grounded in darwinian social behavior, I believe that it is somewhat troubling to fathom. I must be honest, as an admiring fan of Mr. Shermer, I took much time in reading this blog in order to try (very much) to agree with it completely. I still found an noteworthy consideration to add.

    With a multidimensional understanding of sociological factors that change social structures and institutions (whether or not these changes were intended/influenced by a governmental body or resultant economic pressures), it would be injudicious to argue for conservative or neoliberal economics as all-encompassing unitary system. With human nature being as it is – as noted by Shermer’s recollection of the lecture – there are animalistic instincts, if I may, which exist out of the basic desire of survival that result in behaviors characterized by greed or avarice; collective greed in groups, particularly*. Particularly in the boastfully “capitalistic” United States this is so. Conservatives will argue for the incredible need to focus on personal responsibility and individual decision-making for society’s advancement.

    The problem here is that social sciences have progressively unveiled an inequality that does not just come about from income or wealth, but from group depravations of opportunity, resources, and investment. So much so, in fact, that there are even fields of study dedicated to this. Institutional oppression is a very well supported and evidenced fact of social life. The social darwinism take on economics disregards the unsettling realities of post-industrialized economies – as America’s cities exemplify.

    It is all too easy for the right-wing – and its coerced** citizens – to emphasize the need for personal responsibility while those who are at the bottom working class are oblivious to sociopolitical models that marginalize them.

    As rash as this may sound, I believe that “survival of the fittest” in a social sense is a bit cruel because of the idea that it ignores the perpetuated inequality of the groups’ starting point; where new generations of those underrepresented continue to be institutionally paralyzed into financial burdens and stigmatization.

    For the sake of brevity, I shall merely note that we must consider the realities facing us as Americans (who ironically, in this case, love the “united we stand” ideology of community) and global citizens. As Joseph Stiglitz would say, another world is possible. Free-market capitalism and conservative fiscal policy should not always treat (as they seem to; I am not irrationally claiming) the success of a nation by material and financial profit. With a gaining of values based a bit on human empathy, we may cease to approach the nation’s problem as a business rather than a country. A country filled with people.

    *Dawkins more elegantly notes how the evolutionary desire to propagate DNA has the power to translate to a behavioral facet of humans, respective of social circumstance.
    **I say coerced because those ignorant of liberal social issues seem to grasp onto the convincing rhetoric used by conservatives in promising no change to the safe and promising “status quo.”

  20. Mike Roach says:

    I have been dx with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Without Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, I would not be able to pay for ANY of my healtcare costs or receive any treatment to prolong my life as long as I can. The fact that Shermer holds the underpriveledged and sick in such low regard in favor of “social Darwinism” makes me sick to my stomach. I am through with him and his organization.

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      I have never seen Shermer say that people who deserve help in society shouldn’t get it. Wouldn’t you be the first to agree that lazy and irresponsible people that scam any system and deplete available money for the truly needy are a huge problem and narrow the chance of you getting assistance? The point is whether corrupt oppresive government or free market competiton can best fill these needs in our complex society. All our government’s programs trying to solve social problems are bankrupt or will be and governments that can’t function responsibily are parasites on citizens that care, work hard and generate money needed to help the truly unfortuante.

      TryUsingLogic

      • Max says:

        Care to explain how free market competition fills the needs of an ALS patient who can’t work?

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        By being more prosperous and directing necesaary funds from that prosperity to people through hoepfully better managed and lean government agencies that do not fund welfare and healthcare frauds..etc. It takes prosperity to generate funding for government or private programs and liberal government mandates like we see happening today hurts and bankrupts hard workers while benefitting large numbers of irresponsible people who really don’t care about your needs. I do care.

        TryUsingLogic

  21. Mike Fraley says:

    My father and I were discussing the issues of social entitlements v/s personal responsibility. He is very liberal and I, while still liberal, am more moderate. He made the point that you need to decide what kind of society you want to live in. One that cares for the elderly and poor, or one which allows them to suffer the natural course of their situation. Do we want to hear endless stories of elderly folks running out of money and starving to death, or do we feed them? Do we provide medical care to the children of the poor or allow them to die from things like the flu or chickenpox? Would be be so cavalier in eliminating the refered to ‘benefit rights’ when brought face to face with the realities of abject poverty? Of course, we could just sweep them all under the rugs of the slums.
    Given the freedoms of America, some individuals will prosper

  22. Mike Fraley says:

    My father and I were discussing the issues of social entitlements v/s personal responsibility. He is very liberal and I, while still liberal, am more moderate. He made the point that you need to decide what kind of society you want to live in. One that cares for the elderly and poor, or one which allows them to suffer the natural course of their situation. Do we want to hear endless stories of elderly folks running out of money and starving to death, or do we feed them? Do we provide medical care to the children of the poor or allow them to die from things like the flu or chickenpox? Would be be so cavalier in eliminating the refered to ‘benefit rights’ when brought face to face with the realities of abject poverty? Of course, we could just sweep them all under the rugs of the slums.
    Given the freedoms of America, some individuals will prosper and need no assistance from the community, and others will not. There will always be a low economic class in need of assistance for survival. And, of course, the odds of a child of the slums making it out of their economic realities are much lower than the odds of a child of, say, a Michael Shermer, maintaining theirs. It is the plight of children which ultimately brings out the compassion. If an adult is a drunkard and lacking in ambition, we view him as taking advantage of the system, yet we’d all support the child of poverty, working to become the first of they’re family to go to college. Tolerating the former is the cost of supporting the latter.

    • Nathan Phillips says:

      This reminds me of John Stossel’s statements that he forgives the bad
      that capitalism brings because it is far outweighed by the good (Myths,Lies and Downright Stupidity). I can’t see either of these as good ideas. If there is a negative that comes along with a particular system, it is everyone’s job to try to improve or fix that as well. It has already been noted that without some kind of punishment, negatives tend to increase and crash the system.

  23. William Patrick Haines says:

    Kallan Greybe says:
    July 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm The Libertarian view is damn the powerless to hell and protect the old boys club. Quite frankly, no thank you.
    Reply
    I think it is really amounts to whom dominates the society. Libertarians portray themselves as liberators but in all reality want a society dominated by corporate interest. This reminds of two things the Puritans in England wanted to have the liberty to oppress other people . The Soviet Union when it liberated Europe from the nazis in actually colonized it for themselves .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Farm http://2044thenovel.com/

    Ideally no one would have dominance . Just what is the difference between Libertarian corporate dominated world and feudalism where the common man is reduced to a peasant serf / slave and had to bow down to barons for mere subsistence. Of course they could always use social Darwinism as an excuse for oppression of the economically disadvantaged http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feudalism
    http://www.waragainsttheweak.com/
    But nature abhors a vacuum somebody will fill that niche of top dog .Ideology is always different from reality .Of course labor unions have been blamed by the short sighted reinfields for the evaporation of manufacturing base http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/opinion/14ehrenreich.html?_r=4&pagewanted=1
    The libertarians love to quote Ancient Greek intellectuals like Aristotle and Plato but they lived in a slave society that abhorred manual labor and embraced mysticism . So it is any wonder they do not believe in safe guards for the workers the consumers or the environment .But in reality would you want to have a house built by unlicensed contractors or have to it forgo any inspection for electrical plumbing or structural integrity . Also the food supply has declined in both quality and safety not from too much government regulation but from lack of over sight http://www.foodincmovie.com/about-the-film.php
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jungle

  24. when I was a liberal I knew the conservatives and libertarians were wrong. When I was a conservative I knew the liberals and libertarians were wrong. When I was a libertarian I knew the liberals and conservatives were wrong. As I read the Shermer post and ensuing comments and all the definitions of the proffered trichotomy, and all the arguments for and against the three, I’m heartened to discover I fit nowhere therein. I would add only that the cure for a false dichotomy is not the installation of a false trichotomy. The rigidity of righteousness dooms all three.

  25. Jeff says:

    Mike Roach, I agree with you that the Darwinian aspects of libertarianism are nauseating, and no amount of ivory-tower theorizing can disguise the fact. Libertarians in the US are overwhelmingly prosperous white males who have never experienced real threats to their very survival – they just don’t get it, in other words. I’m not quite ready to give up on Shermer, though, because of all the other things he’s accomplished.

    Mike Fraley, your last sentence was right on the mark: no system will ever be perfect, and if helping someone attend college means putting up with a few undeserving abusers it’s a relatively small price to pay for a more humane and progressive society.

    Universal health care is something every developed country has except for the US, which puts the lie to claims that “it can’t work here.” Providing essential services such as health care, education, police, fire, water, etc are things which government is actually better at than the private sector. We are highly “socialized” and the conservatives know this, but don’t want anyone else to when the topic of health care comes up. Insurance companies, pharmaceutical lobbies and trial lawyers with their huge malpractice awards all share in the blame for the state our health care system is in, and it makes me physically ill just listening to their bald-faced lies they come up with to protect their self-interest at the ever-growing expense to the rest of us.

    There is another sector which needs to be reigned it as well, and that is the legal system. The unfairness here is painfully obvious and makes a case for the eventual socialization of legal services at some level. Besides out-of-control fees, we in this land of the free do not have “loser pays” and as a result malicious lawsuits are running rampant, extorting settlements out of innocent targets in an ongoing travesty of justice.

    Insurance companies and trial lawyers have also so far defeated both “pay at the pump” and no-fault auto insurance, another example of self-interest colliding with public interest. As long as people refuse to see how some “freedoms” are merely ruthlessness in diguise we will continue to suffer these abuses!

  26. Chris Howard says:

    Hey Steve.

    “Chris-
    Is your point that because your description doesn’t distinguish between insurance and socialized medicine, they are the same? A four legged animal with fur, pointy teeth and claws could be a tiger or a poodle. They are definitely very different even though the description describes both.”

    It’s true that there are differences, but essentially the concept is the same. Liberals are cognitively primed to knee jerk against big business i.e., insurance companies, and Conservative Republicans and Libertarians react in kind to big government, and usually each side is so entrenched and invested in their ideology that they, for what ever reason, will not falsify their beliefs.
    My point is that relying on rhetoric as opposed to well reasoned arguments and adherence to facts leads to wasted resources, something I don’t think we can afford… pride goeth before a what again?
    The idea that taxes are a burden is, in all fairness, an arbitrary judgement call, no? Ultimately you can’t get something for nothing. What do you mean by burden? Is paying a fee to a privatized company a burden, and if not why, if so why? I guess we need a better operational definition of “burden.”

    Steve: “The average person doesn’t need framing of the phrase “Tax Relief” to feel that taxes are a burden.”

    That certainly is true, but what framing does is it reinforces a way of thinking about an issue. It confirms the idea that for some people taxes are perceived as a burden and for others they are perceived as “Paying ones fair share.” or “doing ones duty” or whatever ones bias lends them towards.
    More to the point it tends to eliminate deep, critical, thought and replace it with words that feel good, appeal to confirmation bias, prejudice, blame and doubt, and don’t really move the argument along in an honest intellectual fashion.

    Steve: “Even if taxes are necessary they are a burden.”

    That’s a really cool line. I somehow like the idea of a necessary burden. It’s very ingrained in my culture. (my mom read a lot of Le Morte d’Arthur to me when I was a kid, so I’ve got this whole “duty and Honor” thing going, Veritas Sine Timore etc.) Anyhow, and in all seriousness, can I use it in a song? I’m the manager of Olive Street, and we’re brainstorming our first LP.

    More to the point, did I answer your question, or as is often the case, did I totally miss your point all together?

    PS Reading much of the posts it’s strikes me that I am very emotionally invested in my beliefs, and just hoe knee jerk my responses are. I’m going to have to work on this.

  27. Joe Ferguson says:

    Capitalism works because it is driven by a real engine – greed.
    Pure socialism tends to not work because it is driven by an ideal, and ultimately is as corrupted by greed as capitalism.
    It seems obvious to me that capitalism tempered by heavy doses of socialism, while not ideal, would be the most logical system, offering the room for so-called “individuals” (read rich and selfish) to prosper, while at the same time conferring human rights and a fair shake to those less privileged and those less caught up in the pursuit of wealth.

    • William Patrick Haines says:

      Yes Extremism / fundamentalism or idealism does not work no manner what the ideology is . As much I will find fault in capitalism not all captains of industry are wrong way Corrigans just what has happened in the past thirty years has been a lack of accountability and no checks and balances http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Corporation

  28. Chris Howard says:

    I think Joe’s on to something here. No one system will work perfectly, so yeah, what the hey… lets combine the best of the best.

    • Hoyt Upson says:

      Geez – iznt dat da point of societal living as humans? We should use are ability to reason to find the methods that best serve the species as a whole to survive. We should use our abilitys to empathize and compromise to make sure that all in society are included in the benefits. What an awful thing that would be . . . damn.

  29. Chris says:

    Agree. Taking steps to insure a healthy society is neither conservative, liberal, or libertarian. It is a choice rooted in pragmatism, and frankly those with “more” have “more” to lose when the system fails, or one class falls ill. Let us not forget the behavior of the elite/wealthy during the economic crisis. While many of these folks are the biggest payers (and complainers) of taxes, they were also the first ones to extend their giant hands and say “bail me out.” And the spin-masters came up with a fancy little slogan: “Too BIG to fail.” Too big to fail worked because it communicated in 4 simple words that we will all suffer terribly if the big banks go down. Collective ideaology imposed upon us by the Ayn Rand’s of the capitalism world.

    I’m not sure what this all means other than – how easily we become hypocrites when the spector of disaster comes knocking on our own door.

    • Hoyt Upson says:

      “Too BIG to FAIL” could also be applied to the problems of the American health care and education systems. The cost of failure of either of these systems to provide for even a small portion of the population can be enormous. Isn’t it in the self-interest of the individual to support the common-interest of society?

  30. John B Hodges says:

    I was a passionate, ideological Libertarian for 8 years in my teens and 20′s, got my B.A. in Economics, spent too many years in grad school. So I am familiar with all of that. Since my 30′s I’ve been a liberal environmentalist, my ultimate political value being “sustainable civilization”, counting liberty and material goods as good things but not necessarily to be maximized. My favorite economist these days is Herman Daly.

    By hard knocks I’ve learned that, to varying degrees but often to a large degree, people believe what they want to believe. We rationalize a lot more than we reason. Intellectual honesty is a skill that must be learned and a virtue that must be practiced; it often requires you to accept unpleasant conclusions.

    Accordingly, ideologies typically are dishonest, inconsistent, and not well supported. “Liberal”, Conservative”, “Libertarian” , say more about people’s psychology than their thoughts.

    IMHO an “economic conservative” is one who feels, in their heart and gut, that people and institutions that are currently wealthy and powerful should continue to get more wealthy and more powerful. A “social conservative” is one who feels, in their heart and gut, that no one should have any sex unless they are both married and trying to have a child. Their arguments are just “intellectual superstructure” in the Marxist sense of the term, rationalizations to support them getting what they want.

    When Ayn Rand was a teenager the Bolsheviks nationalized her father’s business and made a lifelong enemy. She spent some decades constructing an ideology to counter theirs, one which included in its theory of justice the principle that property rights are central and absolute. Taken straight, her theory is opposed in principle to the existence of taxes. I’ve concluded that her theory, and “natural rights” theories in general, logically imply political anarchism; I consider this a refutation of natural rights theories. IMHO rights come from peace treaties, from an implicit or explicit “social contract”. The debate over what rights people SHOULD have, whether classified as “liberty rights” or “benefit rights” or any other way, will depend on prior ideas of justice. Rights theories themselves are inadequate and not logically supportable as theories of justice.

    Enough for now.

    • William Patrick Haines says:

      When Ayn Rand was a teenager the Bolsheviks nationalized her father’s business and made a lifelong enemy. She spent some decades constructing an ideology to counter theirs, one which included in its theory of justice the principle that property rights are central and absolute
      Well she came from a privledged background to begin with and like all spoiled brats when life gives her the first unfair break acts like she has a monoply on misery . And unlike other folks had the funds to actual leave the country .
      Let us not forget the behavior of the elite/wealthy during the economic crisis. While many of these folks are the biggest payers (and complainers) of taxes, they were also the first ones to extend their giant hands and say “bail me out.” And the spin-masters
      so true Libetarains most cherished principal are there are no such as not accepting something you are against in principal they believe if something is available it’s up for grabs

    • RE: Economic and social conservatives, your definitions are broad stroke caricatures that reflect perhaps 2% of the people in those sets at best, cartoon images of The Other Guy that ironically emerges from your own intellectual rationalization and justification processes.

      This is what dogs politics. Everybody agrees everyone can’t be right while refusing to believe they may be wrong, while in fact, neither are all right nor all wrong.

  31. Now that’s a very interesting and thoughtful article. But where is the promised solution to the left-right dilemma delivered?

  32. “Now that’s a very interesting and thoughtful article. But where is the promised solution to the left-right dilemma delivered?”

    According to one-time presidential candidate Pat Paulsen, a true centrist:

    “Assuming either the left wing or the right wing gained control of the country, it would probably fly around in circles.”

    Therefore we shun either.

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      I often say….

      If there was nothing but the Left…nothing would be left!
      And if there was nothing but the Right…nothing would be right!

      TryUsingLogic

      • William Patrick Haines says:

        Well said one size does not and will never fit all
        Libertarians boast about their indiffernce and act like governments have a monoply on bureaucracy” and tyranny .Also turning folks down for medical care and letting die ,how does that really promote efficiency as far as far medical care goes? .
        Mantras / political slogans / platforms are good at evadeing reality such as self hyponosys but they do not build sound policy . You try hypnosys all you want you convince somebody was that they a victim of some cult or kidnapped by space aliens etc but does it make real , No it does it not . Idealogy and reality are always different and reality is much too big for any one idealogy to begin to describe it . If and should have very limited value in the real world .Things are never they the should be in anybody’s mind and they will be entirely

        Indiffernce to others’ misfortune is apathy at the least and perhaps autistic or sadastic sociopathic at the most . Indiffrence and apathy towards others requires next to no courage generousity orambition and thus absolutely nothing to be proud of !

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        In our complex world freedom, liberal democracy and capitalism have proven to be better for all people’s well being over oppressive government mandated socialism. Conservatives and Liberatarians are in general agreement on that point. There are different kinds of Libertarians and the ones I know do not want to turn their backs on the truly needy. They just don’t want a government bogged down in scam programs that waste our money while being sucked dry by scam artists and losers who steal. As we approach government rationed healthcare I live in a state where I have never seen one incident of anyone being denied healthcare and dying. Government is already deeply involved in regualting our healthcare and hence the costs are being driven higher. Wait till people die standing in line for healthcare being rationed by government. It happens in countries already trying government healthcare….it is interesting that Canada last month just reversed the law that banned private health insurance for Canadians…It is said that Obama’s hidden plan is to drive USA private insurance out of business by unfair competition from his government plan…..Obama’s policy is Socialism, no matter how you spin it….

        It is highest form of “indiffernce to others” to suffocate our individual freedoms and liberty to make sure we are all sadly mediocre.

        It is interesting to me the posts on this issue that say political ideology is based on faith, emotion and no facts. If that is true then those supporting the Left and Liberalism while saying Liberatianism is not a topic for skeptics obviously have no facts or basis to defend their own comments on the subject.

        The Left hates discussing freedom and liberty issues, because it challenges their critical thinking skills unfairly!

        TryUsingLogic

      • Hoyt Upson says:

        Wow I can’t tell if you’re advocating your specific ideology, or critical thinking and debate.

        “The Left hates discussing freedom and liberty issues, because it challenges their critical thinking skills unfairly!”

        Understood as: “I’m right, and you’re wrong and stupid.”

    • Hoyt Upson says:

      And so it goes . . . we fly around in circles in one direction or the other, passing by the same sights and problems over and over again, never daring to dive down and actually work to solve a problem (progress) for fear of making a mistake or losing the control of the direction of our spin.

  33. Nathan Phillips says:

    There are blurry lines in these quests for the best practices. It it my right to not get bombed? If it is, then it is everyone else’s responsibility to not bomb me. However, it is a benefit right to have someone protect me from bombs. Do I really have a libery right not to get bombed if there aren’t people protecting me from bombs? Maybe the conservatives, liberals, libertarians and even *gasp* Green party members and anarchists have somthing to bring to the table. Perhaps the best we can do is make sure that different people get a chance to show what their systems can do. Maybe we would never have had trade with China without a conservative in the Whitehouse, maybe we would never have had a social safety net without Franklin Roosevelt (without whom the CCC would never have brought my ancestors together to produce me, what a wonderful life!), I would like to see the ways that other perspectives will enrich our country.

  34. JGB says:

    It is nice to consider which ‘rights’ (whatever those are) are most important, etc etc. However, groups of people want to preserve more than some ideals -they want their life, health, happiness and many other things. There are so many cases of sacrificing individual rights for the sake of the group (e.g. military drafts) that it should be clear that discussing politics must involve more than talking about which rights we value. Ultimately, no society can survive unless it is willing to sacrifice most (all) rights of its members for the good of the group. [This was one of the ironies of the Confederacy in the Civil War – the only way they could win was to sacrifice most of the ideals of states’ rights which lead them to war in the first place. A decentralized confederation is no match for a centralized cohesive unit).

    A lot of so called liberal attitudes (such as supporting universal health care) and not born out of an idealistic notion that health care is an inalienable right – rather a pragmatic realization that disease is one of the biggest threats humanity has faced, faces today and will face. Without universal access to health care the danger of pandemics increases (consider the health benefits that most farm and restaurant workers get). Just as those who refuse to immunize their children put others’ health at risk – those who are willing to live alongside tens of millions of people without health care are putting their own health at risk.

    Another example of a so-called liberal program being pragmatic. NASA has Education and Public Outreach efforts targeting African American and Latino students to inspire them to consider STEM careers (Science, technology, engineering and math). This may look like misguided warm-fuzziness – but in truth, it is a calculated effort for NASA to secure a source of domestic engineers in the future: the number of Whites & Asians going into STEM majors is dropping but the African American & Latino college enrollment is increasing. If NASA can get more diversity in STEM majors it can increase the pool of future employees. BTW: the Defense industry is greatly concerned, too, because H-1 visa engineers aren’t likely to get security clearance for defense contracts.

    Libertarian ideals are wonderful – if we lived in a perfect world I would be a Libertarian any day of the week and twice on Sunday. The problem is we live in an imperfect world where simply protecting America against all threats (foreign, domestic, and ‘natural’) requires us to take a more pragmatic approach. We have to sacrifice liberties in order to have people to have the remaining liberties. It sucks, but it beats extinction.

    • Max says:

      I don’t know about NASA outreach, but here’s an example of social engineering.
      http://www.stemnetwork.org/model/
      “The U.S. STEM Education Model, developed by the Raytheon company, allows users to simulate various scenarios to determine whether they have the potential to increase the number of students choosing to major and graduate in STEM disciplines.”

  35. Bob Tannenbaum says:

    so I read all this stuff, and not once was milo minderbender mentioned. or the movie, whatever it takes. are there no literate people out there? all of this was analysed in the book, catch-22. or as my republican son in law says, when he got the contract to build microwave systems in canada knowing that they give kids cancer, “well, we if didn’t take the job, the other company makes the money.” so, having blood on your hands is totally acceptible to true cut-throat capitalists. at least my son in law was not a hypocrite. it is kill or be killed. survival of the fittest, adaptation at its core. survival at its core. fear at its core.

  36. Bob Tannenbaum says:

    oh yeah, and what politition in canada gave permission for deadly microwave communication systems to be installed in their country? yes, plenty of m and m corporations in this world. and to think, milo started out as manager of the mess hall. and what a mess he made, didn’t he ollie?

    • Nathan Phillips says:

      How do you figure that microwaves cause cancer? They spin water molecules. Anything that gives off heat could be considered a carcinogen with that logic. I grew up burning wood for heat. I’m sure that I was exposed to more carcinogens from that than by using a microwave oven. Microwave communcations networks are not deadly. That’s bollocks.

  37. Roy Edmunds says:

    It is obvious that Government is able to co-ordinate certain non profit services which could not be left to private enterprise unless such a private body acted exactly the same as a government one and drew on tax payers money as required.

    Defence is a non profit service which is supported by private enterprise in supplying the necessary military hardware, at a profit, payed for by the citizenry.

    Citizens volunteer or are conscripted for service and are payed by the tax payers to carry out military service.

    The overall decisions are made by government in accordance with their constitution and constitutional conventions and government is answerable to the independence of the high courts and ultimately the voters choice in a democracy.

    It all kind of works because of the devolution of power and the regular sweep clean of elections. Despite corruption, and human stupidity, democracy works best. It evolved over hundreds of years of trial and error and continues to evolve in countries where debate and the vote is the method of arriving at compromise. In other countries where there is corruption on a wide scale the whole social order breaks down when an election is fraudulent or a government departs from the constitution.

    The whole thing is rather tenuous really though, and relies on people of goodwill doing what is right most of the time. What is right is determined by the rule of law and unwritten accepted truths of expected behaviour. Which is why we take an oath before delivering evidence or information. The truth is anticipated and penalties apply for those who are found guilty of lying under oath.

    Who was it said that something like, that for evil to exist it is required for good men/women to do nothing. But to do something you need freedom of expression in the press and media. To report the truth about corruption in government.

    As a society we get ourselves into messes because we can in a free society. Government and private individuals alike make choices which have consequences. The consequences may mean loss of position in government or bankruptcy or jail or simply financial loss. But we are free to get it horribly wrong provided we have not broken any written laws. Thats why folk who came to the USA from socialist countries found the freedom challenging. No one was there to take them by the hand and lead them every step of the way. The freedom was for many just too much and they actually opted to go back. Kind of like a long term prisoner who becomes institutionalised to such an extent that life in the outside world is a frightening prospect without considerable re-training, advice and assistance.

    Ironically in some countries where there is less done for the citizenry the citizen is caused to take responsibility for their own safety and survival. This does not necessarily make for a better society if the citizens are also open to exploitation because they are also not allowed to form unions and sue for better wages and conditions to protect the weak. Otherwise it is like a frontier society where you survive or die on your wits and sometimes your demise is simply random selection. Wrong place at the wrong time.

    I like living in a society where generally I am able to speak my mind, and make enemies who may try to stand in my way but will not try to kill me because of my differences. I like living in a society where for the most part I can challenge government, and vote them out of existence.

    I like living in a society where the rule of law exists and you know where you stand on just about every choice you make, and that you are regarded as innocent until proven guilty if you do offend. I expect the law to be enforced without fear or favour, and that there will be a separation of powers and an independence of the judiciary.
    But nothing is perfect and the price of freedom is in fact eternal vigilance.
    So, to be able to take to the streets and protest peacefully without being shot or beaten to death,to speak out, or write opinions against the government, though I may be wrong and out of line, is something I cherish. And not to have a government bring in the army to disperse peaceful protest.
    Having said all that it amazes me that a democratic country like the USA will trade with a country like Communist China which despises democracy and treats its own citizenry with contempt and uses the army to quell unrest. Did the USA lose its way?

  38. Michael Kingsford Gray says:

    Michael Shermer:
    Do you think that the universal health-care systems as employed in say Sweden, Australia, or the UK are a positive thing?
    (They are all viciously anti-libertarian, as far as I am able determine.)

    Would it change your mind were you not able to afford private health insurance, and were thereby quickly dumped into the wheelchair or grave, as the private system inevitably demands?

    I agree with you on most issues of science, but feel that as much as you have commendably shaken off your previous wholesale embracement of outright woo, you have yet to do so with relation to your seemingly religious attachment to the economic sphere of reality.

    The U.S. system of health care is fundamentally broken, and at 3rd world levels.
    And this is almost exclusively a result of libertarian economics.
    It is my judgment that you have one further level of ‘woo’ to discard.
    Socialist health policies WORK.
    They work far better than the obscene system that is the vogue in the U.S., that is for sure!

    • William Patrick Haines says:

      A person sees the world by the conditions they grew up in . An affluent individual will be hardly ever be able to see some of things the less fortunate see on a daily basis unless extraordinarily gifted
      As A devout agnostic in an extreme desperate situation I might consider mumbling a prayer . Well whomever I am not asking for those indifferent libertarians to be damned but could you please miraculously pull their heads out of the sand and open their eyes to the trials and tribulations the unprivileged and anti affluent experience on a daily basis and maybe heal the part of the brain that controls empathy or give then a brand new part because that part does not seem to be working .I guess if I was to ask whomever for those libertarians to be damned into living like the ordinary folks it would be beneath their dignity and would be defined as cruel and unusual punishment after all you would not want them to get their hands dirty or heaven forbid work up a sweat or break a nail. If the devil existed and has any taste what soever if some libertarian tried to sell their soul perhaps he might either reject it out right or after purchasing it might go to the better business bureau to seek an immediate return. I doubt libertarians would gamble their souls for a fiddle made of gold . Other than extra ordinary indifference I can not think of any genuine talent libertarians have over any one else. They do have the extra ordinary ability to cuss the institution of government up and down and around the world like some profound case of Tourette syndrome and not just take the bailout funds but sprint ahead in line so fast perhaps they could the first to earn a platinum medal for getting first in line for that bail out money from the evil government .Believe me with libertarian hogwash you do not need any hell or devil and if there is a god how could he let libertarians come about in first place .This really makes the concept of god look like something cooked up while intoxicated . Which libertarian gibberish must have had similar origins or like religion was cooked up to justify and serve the ruling elites existence the same way Pharaoh, Caesar or any emperor or tribal chief would be defined as a god
      Well if no god and they adapt those mean spirited pro corporate policies our species would have proven it self unfit to survive will eventually perish by it’s negligence incompetence and indifference. However I have more faith in humanity perhaps it is unrealistic as any religious dogma . But I have experienced enough random acts of kindness personally which has reinforced this hope that most people are decent enough to disregard this mean sprit ed apathetic gibberish!!

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        I was trying to make through your rambling gibberish. We have a complex society with a blend of many political ideologies. There are the filthy rich Hollywood left that constantly kiss up to Marxist/totalitarian thugs and then there are poeple like my parents who had grade school educations and worked hard and believed in responsibility, freedom and capitalism. My Dad quit jobs that were unionized and demanded his vote for Democrat candidates for job security. You say…”A person sees the world by the conditions they grew up in”…what the hell does that mean? He put 4 boys through college and fought everyday of his life for less government and lower taxes. He was not wealthy when he died, but lived a rich life. Libertarian principles are much more in touch with freedom and workable solutions for America and the only form of governments that will ever threaten America’s prosperity is totalitarian style socialism or theocracies because they steal our freedoms away. You think Health care is expensive now…wait until it is free and a gift from government.

        We have laws to control free market abuses…..our wise votes are the only hope for protecting us from an abusive government!

        TryUsingLogic

      • William Patrick Haines says:

        You say…”A person sees the world by the conditions they grew up in”…what the hell does that mean. A wealthy person has a shelterd existence and thus does not understand anything first hand . Also college expenses were also cheaper than they are today and
        wages have declined sharply .If you were motivated to become economicly elevated gradualations .There are the filthy rich Hollywood left that constantly kiss up to Marxist/totalitarian . It seems you have contradictory views you admire the rich and
        sucessful but vilify them for being out of touch elitest
        I admire hard work despite any ones political orientation . Maybe your story is true but an exceptional rare case
        However Any one can concoct a Cinderella/ Rocky / Horatio Algiers rags to riches song and dance and everybody is supposed to suspend disbelief .Yeah I can ramble on and go on tangents and at times
        become possibly somewhat insulting or disrespectfull but it is okay
        for the Libertarians to habitually insult the less fortunate and everybody is supposed to say nothing .
        I am sure you will easily find numerous typo and leaving words
        out of sentences and point them out but have the overall content go unchallenged

        While you have people who worked their way out of poverty or or managed to make a better a life for their family
        they are generally the exception rather than the rule. They have had lower taxiation and regulation for the past 30 years and I have
        yet to have witnessed anything trickle down as a result.
        http://www.consortiumnews.com/2009/060309.html
        It was unions that made working conditions and wages that made it easier to advance from one economic position

        There are the filthy rich Hollywood left that constantly kiss up to Marxist/totalitarian thugs and then there are poeple like my parents who had grade school To me this sounds like paraniod ravings seeing
        commies in ever direction In an earlier epoch would you have known anyone who asociated
        with the reverend cotton mather
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotton_Mather
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_mccarthy

      • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

        I note with some disdain that neither you, nor any of the pro-libertarian responders to date, address the question of EVIDENCE.
        That was the whole point of my ultimate paragraph!

        Your “We have laws to control free market abuses…..our wise votes are the only hope for protecting us from an abusive government!” was nothing more than juvenile wishful fantasy.

        What about actually addressing my points, rather than chant the mantra?
        (That applies to all of you, including Michael Shermer)

        Start by addressing the evidence for health outcomes, and why your US libertarian utopia has THIRD WORLD health outcomes??

        (I do not expect a both coherent and to-the-point response, as the facts and the statistics demolish your economic religious dogma.)

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Michael Kingsford Gray says”I note with some disdain that neither you, nor any of the pro-libertarian responders to date, address the question of EVIDENCE.”

        There is plenty of information to define the problems of of socialized medicine in the world including the negative effect government already has on the USA healthcare system.

        http://www.liberty-page.com/issues/healthcare/socialized.html#cuba

        Selectively take from this data what you want..I expect you to spin it your way….

        TryUsingLogic

      • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

        Yes, I was thinking quite the same thing:
        It is OK to be a libertarian whilst one is well-off.
        But what happens if one falls on hard times?
        A libertarian has only one way to go, if they are not to reveal themselves as total hypocrites: ill-health, followed very quickly by the grave.

        Readers may note how libertarian respondents avoid addressing this issue as though their lives dependent upon it.

  39. Joe Ferguson says:

    “Thats why folk who came to the USA from socialist countries found the freedom challenging.”

    Despite a well thought out and intelligent post, you fall into the Orwellian doublespeak of rabid capitalists by comparing democracy – a system of government, with socialism – an economic system.

    The fact is that most socialist countries are democracies including some of our staunchest allies like England. Some of the best economic times this country has had was under FDR’s largely socialist New Deal. When I grew up, my father worked in the Post Office and my mother didn’t work, yet we could afford to live in a nice house in one of the richest suburbs of New York. Today, both spouses work themselves to death and can barely pay the bills.

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      It’s very evident that America’s capitalistic democracy was overwhelmingly better for more people than Europe’s and Canada’s Socialist democracies. The world has fallen into more trouble because as we have taken on the path to a socialist democracy instead of holding firm to the principles of our forefathers. It has been clearly described over and over that after 8 years of failure of Franklin Roosevelt’s socialized fixes that demands of a World War pumped money into the free market and US business comunities and saved our economy tempoarily from his socialist plans. We are still trying to live down and fix the failing social programs credited to Franklin Roosevelt. Socialist democracies exist in Europe today because the free market ingenuity of America helped save them from totalitarianism thugs. You might recosnider that all the problems that we have today are being caused by what Libertarians and Conservatives complain about…..too much government and taxes stealing away our freedoms to make us all mediocre zombies!

      We have many friends that are Socialist Democracies and it’s easy to see the negatives they have. America has been the strongest democracy in the world but seems to be faltering more and more as it grasps for a Utopian dream.

      The housing and credit mess was created by government promising homes and loans to anyone…regardless of income or credibility ….by commanding that failure they are truly spreading our wealth around a trillion dollars at a time….

      TryUsingLogic

    • Max says:

      “Thats why folk who came to the USA from socialist countries found the freedom challenging.”

      I think he’s referring to economic freedom.

      By the way, refugees from Communist countries like Cuba and USSR tend to be very anti-Communist, and are amused to be called “conservatives”.

  40. Alan D. Hughes says:

    No one seems to have gotten to the end (conclusion?) of Shermer’s blog. How to punish humans into altruistic behavior? Do we use religion? or do we use government (the state)?

    I read his point to be that neither solution has led to “one for all and all for one” since the attack on Pearl Harbor and up to the attack on the World Trade Center towers.

    Is it just possible that we don’t need to be punished in order to maximize our human potential both individually and collectively?

    What if we start believing and acting on the belief that there is no other? (Haidt’s third moral variable.)

    What if we start respecting our human intellectual lineage and start practicing our ability to disagree without being disagreeable? (Haidt’s fourth moral variable.)

    And finally, what if we start to reinvent the sacred? (Haidt’s fifth moral variable.) Why does sacred have to be only a religious word?

    Isn’t it within our power/potential as human beings to emerge from a state of mental fear to a positive mind set?

    Sooner or later, the Sun is going to burn out. This is a reality. Do we exhaust this planet before the Sun burns out or will it be a simultaneous event? Either way, our time left in this solar system is limited.

    How do we choose to spend the days we have left? Do we have intellectual debates over political ideology or do we start the serious business of figuring out how to transport human life out of the solar system?

    This isn’t science fiction!!! This is the reality (problem)that, in my opinion, we should all be discussing. Without a solution, at some future and still uncertain date, all other topics will become moot.

    • Hoyt Upson says:

      ! ! ! What? Are you proposing that there is no “them”? That we need not live in fear of the “other” taking our stuff? That instead of “Us and Them” there is only “We”? That we should rejoice in and hold dear and protect that which we hold dear — Life? And that we should cooperatively utilize our common knowledge and experience for the betterment, and survival of all?

      That’s just crazy talk. What’s to motivate an individual in that? If I am using my knowledge and abilities and resources to help others, what’s in it for me? There’s got to be something that’s just mine, um . . . other than my life.

  41. TryUsingLogic says:

    Since life is short, and I do not believe in the after life, and cannot project my thoughts to the time the sun burns out, I do care about the quality of life we have on earth during our brief time here. We should have intellectual and reasonable debates about what works best for us. I will use the example of comparing North and South Korea. Same country, same people, same culture, same time frame for comparison…..North Korea is Socialist/Communist and South Korea is a free market democracy. Compare the stats between North and South Korea…..I would let you decide which is doing better on the issue of improving life!

    Our history shows that freedom and liberty through democracy is best chance we have for a better world for all societies including solutions to enviromental concerns……and needs to be discussed!

    I appreciate Michael Shermer’s articles bringing this issue up for discussion.

    TryUsingLogic

    • Max says:

      Using North Korea as a model of socialism is as fair as using Somalia as a model of free market capitalism. One is totalitarian, the other is anarchic.
      If you think all socialists are against democracy, look up social democracy. If anyone is against democracy, it’s the extreme libertarians who deride it as mob rule.

    • Hoyt Upson says:

      Me thinks you argue a moot point with only yourself.

  42. Thom H. says:

    One of the things I’ve noticed on this thread, and on other blog posts (especially Pharyngula), is a misunderstanding or mischaracterization of libertarianism. For example: ” The Libertarian view is damn the powerless to hell and protect the old boys club. Quite frankly, no thank you.” – Kallan Greybe
    If this were true, I too would say “no thank you”. I’ve seen posts that equate libertarianism with anarchy… there may have been such an allusion in this thread. Again, this is either a deliberate mischaracterization or, to be charitable, a misunderstanding.
    Libertarians are human, they want the same things all humans want… food, clothing, shelter… life, liberty, happiness. They look at the governmental behemoth and think they see a better way of delivering those desired results. It is not a desire to take away anything from anybody, on the contrary it is a humane desire to provide more for everybody. As Mr. Shermer points out, government rakes off billions of dollars that do not end up benefiting the ones it was supposedly collected for. That’s the part of government that libertarians would do away with. Some of the detractors, though, seem to think that libertarians would do away with all government. That is not the case. There needs to be sufficient government to guarantee those ‘liberty’ and ‘property’ rights. Obviously this does not imply anarchy, but the opposite. There are two roles for government, military and judicial. We need a strong military to protect the country and its citizens, and we need a judicial system to punish (re Shermer’s comment about the requirement for some punishment) those who would violate other’s rights. What libertarians would oppose is the government sanctioning of preferential rights for “the old boy’s club” as is practiced by the current style of government, ie. the opposite of what K. Greybe seemed to think of libertarianism.

    And for Mike with ALS: I’m sorry to hear about your health problems but I have my own health issues to deal with. I can barely afford them as it is. If you send your thugs (read IRS) to take money from me to pay for your health care, then I will be forced to beg those same thugs to go next door and get money from my neighbor to pay for my health care. It becomes a vicious circle with the thugs raking off a bit of bonus every time they are employed. This doesn’t seem like the best solution.

    Final thoughts: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
    And, “What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others.”

    • William Patrick Haines says:

      Taxes are a reality and yes any political party would impose them . A sales taxes would hurt the poor and contribute to the creation of recessions far more than the current income tax and before the income tax you had an excise tax on imported goods and taxation based on the population these taxes really hurt the poor far more than the current income tax.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_the_United_States
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_inequality
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feudalism
      Either form of taxation imposed would still raise enormous sums of money . Now does the US have to be a global empire ? The cold war is over and meddling in other countries affairs has always caused blow back . Deregulating the market is always been a bad idea and dismantling the safety is just trying to resurrect the discredited dogma of social Darwinism where the elite strut around
      and instead of using the divine of kings they concocted a pseudo
      scientific secular version to justify their perceived superiority http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_darwinism
      http://www.waragainsttheweak.com/

    • Max says:

      So you send the thugs to get money from the rich, healthy neighbor who can afford it. The neighbor will be somewhat frustrated, but glad to know that if he ever becomes disabled, he’ll have the thugs on his side.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

      The ‘libertarians’ that you claim to have been satirized, include (as far as I can determine from his talks on that very subject), Michael Shermer.
      Are you establishing a straw man in order to hide the real man?

      • Thom H. says:

        Well I wasn’t trying to establish a strawman. I was basing my description on the libertarian philosophy that I’ve been exposed to. As with any group, there is a (modified?) bell curve distribution. We are not uniform. And in the “no true Scotsman” vein, I could not support Bob Barr as the Libertarian candidate in the previous election because I didn’t consider him to be true to libertarian ideals. He and I do not fall under the same part of the curve. From what I’ve read of Mr. Shermer’s articles, he and I are closer but I have no way of knowing if we have exactly the same approach to libertarianism. Still, the fundamental argument boils down to ‘coercion’. From what I’ve seen, and I’m 61 so I’ve seen a lot, the Republicans AND the Democrats want to use the big stick of government to coerce everyone to do things their way. The libertarians say, “let’s take the big stick away from government so that factions aren’t beating each other over the head with it.” If you think that poor people should be given free health care then fine, send a bunch of your money to United Way or the Red Cross or some such organization. Nearly everything you expect government to do could by done by you joining (or subscribing to) a special interest group and sending them the money that you would otherwise pay in taxes. But this way, you get the choice of which group to join. I’m absolutely certain that whichever side of the political spectrum you are on, there are things the government is doing with your tax dollars that you are opposed to. So what’s your solution? Try to get your guys into office so they can swing the spending pendulum over to your pet projects, forcing the losing party members to pay for things they don’t want. It’s an infinite loop. A wasteful one at that. Get government out of the loop. You pay for what you want, I’ll pay for what I want, and all of the animosity, fighting, power-grabbing can go away. And save us a shitwad of money to boot.
        My father used to describe the Army as: “you can’t do anything unless you are told to.” and the Marine Corps as: “you can do anything unless you are told not to.”
        At first it may look subtle but there is a big difference. I see the big-government parties (Dems and Reps) as using the Army approach and the libertarians as using the Marine Corps approach. Personally, I prefer the latter. I suppose there are people who don’t.

    • Hoyt Upson says:

      “government rakes off billions of dollars that do not end up benefiting the ones it was supposedly collected for.”

      So the question is: Where does that money go?

      My thought is too much goes to corporate lobbied benefits that go to for-profit enterprises that shouldn’t need the aid to begin with, if they are true capitalists. Putting an end to our pay-to-play system of campaign fundraising (bribery) would go a long way to elimanating government waste and trimming government size.

      “There are two roles for government, military and judicial.”

      I sincerely hope you don’t hold that government has ONLY those two functions. Is that really all?

      And how do you differentiate the importance of the need for protection from our fears(military), from the need to protect our biological life(health care)?

      Both are important to sustain a society at any scale, and I profer that the need to protect health and life first, is more important than protection from fears and enemies. And for simplicity, you may define enemy as those who hold a differing ideology and “threaten” yours.

      “It is not a desire to take away anything from anybody, on the contrary it is a humane desire to provide more for everybody.”

      You seem to hold to protection of “your kind only” through military.

      Wouldn’t universal health care be in the realm of a humane desire to provide more for everybody?

      I also don’t understand the distinction between the feared government bureaucracy controlling healthcare, and the current private, for-profit bureaucracy controlling healthcare. How can one group making decisions based on profit goals, be better at considering the welfare of everybody?

  43. Tim says:

    If I don’t agree to be part of your group, then how can I be punished? That question is basically what libertarians ask and the answer provided is generally, “you can’t.” So, in the name of libertarians everywhere, “don’t freggin’ touch me.”

    You think you have a right to healthcare? Go pick it off the tree you think your right grows on, but don’t freggin’ touch me. I am not your slave or butler, I do not exist for your amusement or well being.

    You think you have a right to prohibit my marijuana (well not mine, I don’t smoke dope)? Guess what, I do not require your permission to grow marijuana and can grow it in spite of your condemnation so, don’t freggin’ touch me. I do not live because of you nor are my actions contingent upon your good graces. I am not your child or your property, I am a being with free will of the age of reason just like you and I do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I don’t touch you to make you act as I wish, so don’t freggin’ touch me.

    That morality is the defining characteristic of libertarianism, don’t freggin’ touch me. If you think you have a right to healthcare, but you have to rob me to get it, you don’t have a right to healthcare. If you think you have a right to deny the existence of marijuana, but you have to burn down my harvest to make it happen, you do not have that right. If you think you have the right to rape me because Allah frowns upon the execution of virgins, you don’t have that right. If you think that the sun will not rise unless you cut out my heart, son I am going to cut you first. Libertarianism is the philosophy of live and let live, if you cannot convince me to do something then you have no right to make me. Although I’ve always been partial to Milton Friedman, it is as Ayn Rand says; reason is the means we understand our reality, understanding our reality is the means of our survival, and when you are being forced or you are doing the forcing then reason is rejected and with it the means of survival. You want to know who the free riders are? They are the ones who reject reason and survive by “free riding” on the reason of others. Shrug them off and they shrivel and die.

    Reason is survival, libertarianism is the philosophy of government that maintains reason and prevents the abridgment of it, Q.E.D. it is the philosophy for me. Don’t freggin’ touch me.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray says:

      Get back to me when you can respond coherently to my point about the US having 3rd world health care, OK?

      The appalling child mortality rates for the US are proof that libertarianism is broken except for a privileged minority.

    • Hoyt Upson says:

      OK, then. Quit free riding on our roads, as a start. From now on its only pay-as-you-go for you. Let’s see how far you get. You are your own little island. Have a nice life.

      • Tim says:

        So you take my money, build a “public road,” and then exclude me from riding? Can’t argue with that logic.

        I’ll tell you what, if you stop taking other people’s money, I’ll take you up on that offer. Of course, I do wonder how many “public roads” there will be when you can no longer freely ride on the wealth, ideas, inventions, talent, and labor of others.

        Funny, you disregard the notion of private property (claiming what others have for “the public”) and then base your argument on the principle of private property (exclusion, which presupposes ownership).

        Private enterprise cannot tell us no, they can only not say yes to our terms. Government, however, can say no, can not only deny you access to anything it has taken into its possession, but exclude you from the activity all together. Pepsi can refuse to sell you Pepsi at the price you want, but they cannot stop coke from lowering their prices. Government on the other hand can outlaw cola all together (and if you think that is silly, I have four words for you: High Fructose Corn Syrup).

        Your little quip about excluding me is the totalitarian impulse that everyone here needs to be on the look out for.

  44. Bob Tannenbaum says:

    take it easy. resistance is futile anyway….lol…
    I once took a test to find out my real political feelings. It came out that I was on the border of liberal and libertarian. those of you that rail against libertarians, right wingers, and liberals should have to take that test. you would be amazed at your real political leanings. most thinking people like Mike Sherman are both liberal and libertarian. He admits that much. Read the posting again. and btw: can you name all the socialist things we do have in this country? how about free public schools, free liberaries, free fire department (yes, it was private at the turn of the century-see gangs of new york)and the list goes on and on. social security is insurance and is paid for while you work. some people never even get it because they die early. so is medicare. and what was the average age of mortality in the thirties? most people did not reach 65 years of age then.
    And are there primates that live in peace and don’t fight?
    most young animals fight each other, sometimes to the death. only one male adult lion can live with the females. and when he is defeated in battle, the new male lion kills the cubs of the old one. makes genetic sense to me!
    there is only a thin veneer of civilization spread out among all nations of the world. it is just by luck that we still exist. we have the technology of the space age and the emotions of atavistic man. not a good situation. we killed 160 million people in wars in the years from 1900 to 2000. how many will die in this century? six billion? perhaps. man is basically irrational. our only hope is to evolve to a higher order of species. i don not think we will make it. bang or whimper, we are still on our way out. the horror…however, there is a bright side. when we die, we either decompose and burn slowly in the ground, or burn quickly when cremated. both produce heat energy which can not be destroyed.( mc2=e) therefore your mass turns into energy which become part of the weight and substance of the entire universe. we may even become part of a new sun/star and shine down on a water planet, and create life anew. gotta admit that is cool.
    and nathan, those microwave systems were banned in usa. wonder why? you working for milo perhaps? i don’t blame you. he is pretty powerful and can give you chocolate covered cotton!

  45. Bob Tannenbaum says:

    question: why would private fire departments cease to exist? they made lots of moola….you had to have an emblem on your house before they would put out your fire. you had to have paid your yearly fire insurance to the local private fire department.

    see, mrs. o’leary’s cow was a zen master. a lesson for the ages.

    aristotle never said or created the golden rule. it was said and created long before him. what he did say was: if everyone looked out for his own/self best interests, the world would be a better place to live.
    socialism/ like “public” fire departments are now paid through taxes so that all houses/ homes of the rich and poor, didn’t go up in flames, this is an extention of his philosophy. a pretty smart guy it would seem.

    • William Patrick Haines says:

      I might be frustrated at times with people but the fact I have seen unexpected acts of kindness towards myself and others gives me hope that humanity is not a failed species . Today I witnessed somebody fall. Me and somebody else offered assistance to help him up . Despite the law of the jungle instinct inside animals a cat ran into a burning building to rescue it’s kittens .
      http://purpleslinky.com/humor/animal/amazing-animal-heroes/
      Well perhaps these are made up by there incidents of altruism
      So how can a system that rejects decency inherent among living organisms have any chance ever been excepted .Most religions ever concocted have deities that champion decency .
      The golden rule was invented by Confucius http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucius. Thomas Paine proposed retirement benefits http://www.tngenweb.org/campbell/hist-bogan/paine.html. So pure Libertarian ideas were not universally excepted by the founding fathers and is not instinct or natural among normal functional people

      • Tim says:

        To the contrary. The basis of libertarianism IS the golden rule. To suggest that libertarianism is devoid of decency is the typical ignorant tripe that constantly has to be debunked because of the inexcusably large number of people who seem to almost deliberately misunderstand our philosophy. I’ve given a brief, but descriptive statement on libertarian morality and decency which is defined as the Golden Rule.

        As for innate altruism, yes, altruism is likely an evolved characteristic. The question, however, is not whether or not altruism is natural, but whether or not altruism is good. I’ve had personal experiences with altruism as an instinct, the most memorable one is when my dog (prior to becoming a fan of the Dog Whisperer) got away from me while crossing a street, there was a car coming, and I immediately dived to tackle the dog and shield it with my body from the car. The car stopped, and as I was walking away the driver was nice enough to even point out that I had dropped my wallet in the process. So now answer the question, is altruism good? Well, I nearly was run over by a car to save an 11 year old dog, so maybe not. Of course what happens when you build a society not just on altruism and self sacrifice, but on COMPULSORY altruism and self sacrifice? When you build such a society in such a way then the compulsory element corrupts and reverses everything moral you find in those concepts. Altruism becomes slavery, self sacrifice becomes the demand of human sacrifice (literal in some cases as in Aztec society and post revolution Russia/Cuba/etc.), and compassion quickly becomes contempt as the down and out have now become, by definition, a burden of the state.

        What the libertarian argues is simply the absence of the compulsory. Indeed some libertarians are collectivists and those libertarians rather than force their way onto the lives of others simply buy a house on Height-Ashberry street or move into the woods and start their own collective. As to date, all of those endeavors have failed, but the point is that you can be a libertarian and still maintain a code of altruism. You will be wrong of course and your way of life will collapse, but in a society built on reason, on freedom, you are free to figure that out on your own.

        P.S. Arguments by authority are BS, so as much as I like Thomas Paine, him saying something doesn’t make that something true or even a semi-decent idea.

      • Hoyt Upson says:

        W. P. Haines:

        You’ve brought some valid points to this discussion. However, would you please proof-read your comments before posting?

        Example: excepted ≠ accepted You negate your own arguements.

    • Hoyt Upson says:

      don’t freggin touch me or my house, even if we’re on fire

      hehehe

      • Tim says:

        Especially if we are on fire. :-)

        Perhaps I should rephrase. “Don’t freggin’ touch me, unless I give you permission.” If I am on fire, I am willing to pay for your services of fire extinguishing and you can touch me. Same applies in cases of heart attacks, gunshot wounds, car collisions, and attractive women.

        Now I don’t have a right to healthcare, fire services, etc. because those are all the voluntary actions of other people. I am appreciative of people putting me out if I am on fire, I am appreciative if the jaws of life save me, but in each case the phrase “I owe you man” comes to mind. I do not expect people to do these things for me, I just hope they do and I am willing to pay them for it. What I do expect is to not be robbed, not to be raped, not to be kidnapped, and not to be killed.

        I hope that clears up the position a little better. A fine joke to be sure though.

  46. Mike Roach says:

    I do apologize for saying I would never have anything to do with Michael Shermer and his skeptical organizations. That was over-the-top on my part due to my emotions getting the best of me. However in my opinion, every effort should be made by all groups–liberals, conservatives, libertarians, etc..–to provide quality, basic healthcare to everyone, period. Libertarians, like all political ideologies, have some good ideas, but like other ideologies, some are extreme as well.

    • Tim says:

      So, with all due respect, you believe that all groups, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, should agree with you? Again, with all due respect, that’s not a very smart argument, although it is the sort of clever talking point put out by politicians.

      Really, everyone should try to provide quality, basic healthcare to everyone? You wouldn’t make the argument that black people should, regardless of ideology, all work to produce quality, basic, affordable cotton for everyone (,period) would you?

      Different belief systems believe different things. Libertarianism, especially objectivism, doesn’t recognize my duty to serve you. I am responsible for my life, you are responsible for your own life, and if you can’t deal with that situation and decide that you have the right to rob me because you want what I have, see how far you can get without my consent and see how many people have quality, basic, affordable healthcare then when you’ve built a system of government based on institutionalized theft and resource allocation based on the methodology of “who you know is what you get.”

  47. Bob Tannenbaum says:

    I loved the story of saving the eleven year old dog. Finally, after all the arguments comes the biggest factor of all, well, maybe not the biggest, but a top three, after food, air, water (that counts as one), sex (must have for survival of species ( you are born, you have sex, you die)and then da ta! comes love! wow, finally love comes into the picture.
    Tim, do you realize you never used that word, or is it a non starter for libertarians and therefore not to be used? Love is a huge human need, proved by scientists all over the world. you loved that dog. someone, maybe norman mailer, said that it is the actions of men, and not the words, that make history.
    shane, shane, come back shane! SHANE, I LOVE YOU, COME BACK SHANE!

    • Tim says:

      I love freedom. I love science. I love…lamp. Tackling the dog was instinct, something to be expected from ions of evolution, but ultimately a poor substitute for reason, logic, empiricism, and skepticism. Instinct only works because it is an evolved understanding of the universe and how it relates to our survival, but anything necessary to our survival that comes through instinct is found through reason. Reason can build a trap, instinct is usually what gets you stuck in one.

      I would ask though, what does love got to do with it? Perhaps more accurately, can you judge an action based on its intentions or based on the action? Will a house not burn down because you intended to make popcorn, not burn your house down? Will you and your dog not get run over because you loved the dog? Will your neighbor not lose their house/car/etc. because you took it away from them because you think others have a right to it in the form of healthcare/housing/etc.?

      It doesn’t matter if you rob somebody because you want what they have or because you want somebody else to have it, you are still robbing them. The question must be therefore, where is the love in robbery?

  48. Joe Ferguson says:

    All this talk of robbery…As if universal health care were somehow picking your pockets instead of paying for a service.

    What about all these corporate “individuals” robbing us blind because according to Libertarian philosophy this is okay?

    True, you may never need the medical care (unlikely though unless you are not mortal), but you are even less likely to make use of every road built in the US by the same kind of taxes that would support health care.

    Hopefully, since you are so opposed to what you have no natural “right” to, none of you Libertarians are using the interstate system, state roads, or even local thoroughfares, seeing as they were all constructed through robbery.

    How do you Libertarians get around anyway?

    • Tim says:

      “All this talk of robbery…As if universal health care were somehow picking your pockets instead of paying for a service.”

      Well, it is picking our pockets rather than paying for a service. Take prostitution for example in place of healthcare. Paying for a service means both parties agree; one to perform a service and the other to pay an amount of money. Now consider the other situation, where only one party agrees. Does leaving her the money make the situation a “payment for services” or is it the “picking of a pocket?”

      Calling a robbery a payment does not make a robbery a payment.

      “CoRpOrAtIoNs! (paraphrasing)”

      As convincing an argument as this is, it is nothing more than bigotry. You are hating people and organizations without explanation or distinction in a painfully generic fashion. You generate a preconceived notion about a group and then assign those characteristics to any member in that group, in this case corporations. Now most corporations are small businesses often involving classic mom and pop operations who are filing as corporations because tax and liability law is least destructive to them under this business format. Others form as corporations as a means of raising the money needed to exist by selling shares.

      Also, I should point out that they don’t rob anyone. What they do is voluntarily interact with human beings. Coca-Cola negotiates with customers by raising and lowering prices according to what customers are willing to pay and Coke does the same with its employees in terms of wages. Pepsi, Walmart, Toys-R-Us, Penn & Teller, and every other corporation must operate within the same framework. If a customer doesn’t want to buy their product, they cannot be made to. If an employee doesn’t want to work at a certain wage or work at any wage for them, they cannot be made to. So as a point of accuracy, corporations do not force anyone to do anything, only government can do that. Criminals can make people do things as well, but not with impunity. Libertarians don’t like criminals. Libertarians thing criminals should go to jail.

      “Roads and stuff (again, paraphrasing)”

      Well, you already took our friggin’ money and spent it on something so I’m not entirely sure what right you would have to keep us off the road. In my experience toll roads always tend to be in better condition and with less traffic than “public roads,” but the fact that private roads are better is not a moral argument, just a practical reality. Morally you just shouldn’t take things from people.

      So how do us libertarians get around on public roads? The same way we get around on private roads only less efficiently; in an automobile.

      :-)

  49. Joe Ferguson says:

    “Well, you already took our friggin’ money and spent it on something so I’m not entirely sure what right you would have to keep us off the road.”

    Interesting. So had we not already stolen your money to build roads, you Libertarians (individuals all) would somehow manage to unite in some great private road-building enterprise that somehow would not involve anyone chipping in money, and that would actually connect to something worth traveling to.

    Conveniently, it would exclude the poor and other riff-raff who could not afford the tolls. But golly gee, if the workers couldn’t get to work, there’d be no one to exploit.

    • Tim says:

      “Interesting. So had we not already stolen your money to build roads, you Libertarians (individuals all) would somehow manage to unite in some great private road-building enterprise”

      Yes. I’m not entirely sure why such a thing would be hard to accomplish. All the railroad gets laid, excuse me, got laid, that way (before government moved in, muscled our market entrepreneurs and created political “Robber Baron” entrepreneurs with subsidies for some and regulations for others), all the telephone lines get laid that way, all the fast food restaurants get built that way, the same of the internet, retail stores, houses (except for those built and propped up by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and various zoning law & building codes, etc.), books, magazines, boxes, paper, air planes, cars, boats, maps, and, well, everything. Why wouldn’t roads get built?

      “somehow would not involve anyone chipping in money”

      Of course not. Many people would chip in money, they just wouldn’t have money chipped out of them.

      “that would actually connect to something worth traveling to.”

      What an odd statement. If you had to make money off of roads what else would they connect to other than something worth connecting to? Only with government do you get bridges to nowhere. What business, non-profit, or community fundraiser is going to spend $200,000,000 on a bridge to an obscure Alaskan island?

      “Conveniently, it would exclude the poor and other riff-raff who could not afford the tolls. But golly gee, if the workers couldn’t get to work, there’d be no one to exploit.”

      Of course Cornelius Vanderbilt ran steam ships from New York to Albany for one dollar, then 10 cents, and then for free in an attempt to compete with other steamboat men and made his money from the food served on the boat. In other areas he did the opposite, gave free meals to get people onto the boats. So when reviewing the evidence competition is actually what makes these products available to the poor. For a more modern example in the 1980′s a cell phone cost over $4,000 and today they pretty much give them away for free. For a point in between those Henry Ford figured out how to run other car companies out of business; sell a lot of cars for a hell of a lot less money. As for healthcare, government makes up more than 40% of healthcare spending plus all the various grants Congress hands out, yet over 90% of all new medicines, procedures, and technologies come out of the private sector.

      There is one thing I am genuinely curious about that I suspect will provoke a platitude as a defense mechanism for a lack of understanding of your own position, but I’ll ask anyways. What do you mean when you say exploit?

      • epicurus says:

        That big bad government is oppressing its citizens is libertarian paranoia. That big bad corporation is exploiting its customers is communist paranoia. They are both half-truths. Of course totalitarian governments oppress their citizens and profiteering corporations exploit their customers. By the way, it is not only government that forces people to pay up, monopolist corporations do that too. Try not paying your local electric utility and see what happens. Do customers have a choice? Sure. Put up an electric generator in your home.

        Libertarians have a choice too. Elect the Libertarian Party to abolish or minimize government interventions. If that fails, libertarians of the world unite! Form your own Libertarian State. With their smarts and wealth, why can’t they do it? A successful Libertarian State would be the most compelling evidence in favor of libertarianism, much more convincing than the philosophical arguments offered by academics.

      • Tim says:

        “A successful Libertarian State would be the most compelling evidence in favor of libertarianism, much more convincing than the philosophical arguments offered by academics.”

        Hong Kong. Monaco. Singapore. United States until the early 1900′s. Not entirely libertarian, but all fairly close and all are in a constant state of growing wealth in total and per capita. Basically, any country that has tried it has succeeded. Any nation which has moved in that direction has improved. Any nation that has moved away from it has done worse.

      • epicurus says:

        Hong Kong is under communist China and a haven for fake goods. Free market capitalism at its best? Or proof that communist China is libertarian because it tolerates illegal trade? Monaco is a tiny state and a monarchy and it’s prosperous. So is Brunei. Is it due to absence of government or due to thriving industries (gambling and oil) coupled with small population? US restricted imported goods for much of the 19th century to support its domestic industries. Free trade or government protectionism? Singapore was colonized by the East India Co. in the early 19th century. The only true libertarian state in recent history, it was dominated by criminal organizations engaged in opium trade, prostitution and slavery. It became prosperous when the imperial British government took over and under the authoritarian government of Lee Kuan Yew.

        All the above states have governments for better or for worse. If it proves anything, it’s good government produces good results, bad government produces bad results, and no government is bad.

      • Tim says:

        “Hong Kong is under communist China and a haven for fake goods.”

        Partially true. While Hong Kong has been transferred to the communist government it has, in accordance with their deal with the British, retained it’s autonomy. As for fake good, don’t look now, but you are making a libertarian argument in favor of intellectual property rights.

        “Free market capitalism at its best?”

        Not at all. There is no ideal libertarian nation, nor has there ever been. The United States at our founding incorporated slavery for a large part of our history (as well as gov’t assisted monopolies such as Union Pacific, Central Pacific, and coming soon, GE), Singapore lacks jury trials and executes drug entrepreneurs, Hong Kong maintains an income tax and isn’t very good at copyright law (although most of what you refer to takes place in mainland China, not Hong Kong), etc.

        “Or proof that communist China is libertarian because it tolerates illegal trade?”

        I have noticed, that all of the critiques you have made all come from a libertarian premise. Every flaw with these societies you have pointed to has been a point in which they are inconsistent with libertarian philosophy.

        “Monaco is a tiny state and a monarchy and it’s prosperous. So is Brunei.”

        Indeed, another point of conflict with libertarian philosophy, although I think you would admit that a comparison between Monaco and Brunei is an unfair one as the moral disparities do not originate from the fact that they are both monarchies (although technically Monaco is a principality).

        “Is it due to absence of government or due to thriving industries (gambling and oil) coupled with small population?”

        A common misunderstanding of libertarian philosophy is that it strives for the absence of government. The absence of government is not what drives prosperity, but rather the protection of rights. Thriving industries exist when their right to keep what they produce and to sell it as they please within a framework of courts to settle disputes is protected. While natural resources can be valuable, without entrepreneurship the knowledge necessary to make use of those resources would not exist and there in the ground those resources would stay as they have stayed for the first 250,000 years of human existence.

        As for a small population, I should point out that Monaco is the most densely populated nation in the world. Hong Kong is also densely populated, but with several million people, no natural resources, and it prospers plenty, despite its imperfections.

        “US restricted imported goods for much of the 19th century to support its domestic industries. Free trade or government protectionism?”

        I believe you will find with some research that free trade is what has brought prosperity. Indeed after every tariff that has been imposed costs have risen and monopoly has been aided with of course the most famous tariff (Smoot-Hawley) causing the Great Depression (along with the Fed reducing the quantity of money by a third over four years and several domestic tax increases and public works programs put forward by Hoover). Other tariffs, such as the Walker Tariff passed in 1846 (the same year the Scranton family began their steel industry which would be the first to challenge the British steel monopoly), reduced tariffs against foreign steel and was supported by the Scranton family. Why? For one, their prices were already competitive with the English so there was no need for a tariff. Two, with tariffs reduced they could buy their raw materials overseas for less and make their prices even lower at the same quality now that they could get more raw materials overseas. You will find free trade has been the greatest force not only for economic prosperity, but also for building bridges of peace with foreign nations as we become intertwined economically.

        “Singapore…”

        No, Singapore was nowhere remotely near libertarian philosophy. Here you are simply wrong in your history. There were free ports and no taxes in many cases with little regulation, but the protection of rights was not paramount. Courts and police were largely absent from this scene and the situation while having a great deal of liberty, it was actually much closer to anarchy (a philosophy as far away from libertarianism as communism). Slavery is the opposite of liberty, and so is prohibition of opium and prostitution. Prohibition is what makes the latter dangerous and a failure of police to stop slavery is even more dangerous.

        “authoritarian government of Lee Kuan Yew.”

        I do hope you are not advocating authoritarianism.

        The issue is not bad government or good government, but proper government. Government which protects rights is proper, government which seeks to provide entitlements through violation of rights is improper and ultimately bad. The government must limit its role to protecting the right to life, liberty, and property: don’t kill me, don’t violate me, don’t rob me. One human being may not coerce another should be the code of government, that all interactions between citizens is voluntary. Government must limit its role to these rights because anything beyond that must, by definition, violate this code and violate the rights of others in order to provide anything material to anyone else. To give resources to one means taking it forcefully from another and thus breaking the code by which a civilization must live by.

      • Tim says:

        Oh, and Estonia is one I left out. Since their independence from the Soviet Union they have implemented a low flat tax with minimal regulation and have seen incredible growth in their economy. I forgot to include them, but wanted to because they have a rather low population density which I wanted to include for the sake of further demonstrating that prosperity is not determined by population density, but individual liberty.

  50. “Help! Help! I’m being oppressed! Violence inherent in the system! Violence inherent in the system!”

    • Tim says:

      Yes. The only thing keeping you from seeing how repugnant the system is, from seeing the inherent violence in the system, is your willingness to consent. If you refuse to give your consent to McDonalds, what happens? You lose weight and maybe McDonalds has to change their business model or lower their prices. Tell me sir, what happens if you stop giving your consent to the state? What happens if you stop mailing in the check? I’m not asking you what would happen if you resisted, if you picked up a gun, but if you stopped cooperating, stopped giving your sanction, if you said that if the government wants their money then they will have to come and collect?

      You are being oppressed. When the thief asks for your car you think it is not stolen because you hand him the keys. When the kidnapper asks for a ransom, you think you are not denied your liberty because you send in the ransom before he kidnaps you. What happens if you stop mailing in the check? What happens is you discover the violence inherent in the system.

  51. Joe Ferguson says:

    I think it is more a matter of whether you agree what the state is taking your money for is useful.

    Personally, I resent the state taking my money in order to wage endless imperialistic wars, but would gladly have them use that money for healthcare, schools, roads, social security, yes and even welfare.

    Military spending is welfare for the rich…You might recall the $700 screw drivers and planes that don’t fly. I don’t mind giving money to those worse off than me, but don not appreciate giving it to the rich.

    So yes, I agree the state stealing from me for things I don’t want to fund is at the very least annoying, however, in a democracy we can (at least theoretically) change things in the same way you suggest changing McDonalds et al.

    • Tim says:

      “I think it is more a matter of whether you agree what the state is taking your money for is useful.”

      I have trouble thinking of a more immoral proposition. The ends justify the means. Shed this belief, shed it before you become so invested that you are more concerned about being seen as wrong than actually being wrong.

      “Personally, I resent the state taking my money in order to wage endless imperialistic wars, but would gladly have them use that money for healthcare, schools, roads, social security, yes and even welfare.”

      Think about what you are saying, think about this argument. “It is okay, so long as I hold the whip.”

      The state is not required to make these things happen. If you don’t mind, indeed if you would gladly have others use your money for healthcare, schools, roads, social security, and welfare, then you are free to spend your money in that way. What we are debating is not those issues. What we are debating is the morality of violating the rights of others. You don’t like paying for war and lament the situation, how do you suppose others feel about having money forced from them for issues far beneath the life and death nature of war? You say if the cause is good, then the ends justify the means, yet on the issue of presumably our overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan you concede that you believe these things are not good yet make the argument that “if it is okay to take money away from people for that, surely it is okay for this other thing that I think is actually worth while.” You contradict your own argument.

      “Military spending is welfare for the rich”

      I don’t understand the nature of this statement. Are you in opposition to a military?

      “I don’t mind giving money to those worse off than me, but don not appreciate giving it to the rich.”

      But you are not giving, you are taking. Still, under this philosophy, destruction is a virtue. Every person in this philosophy hates the person who does better than him and envy’s the man below him. The irony is that any man below him is below him, which means that to them he is above them and therefore to be despised as “the rich.” To them, he, you, OWE them, they are entitled to what you have. Even a thank you from them to you for your wealth is inherently dishonest because according to this philosophy self sacrifice is required, you are even once robbed. You see, those who are poorer than you subscribe to this philosophy as well, and this model of taking from those above you to plunder with those below you inevitably snowballs into a downward spiral of envy, greed, bigotry, destruction, poverty, misery, and ignorance. If you want fiction from someone of your mindset, read Animal Farm from George Orwell. If you want non-fiction of this reality from someone of your mindset, again, read George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia. There is no way that this philosophy ends. Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, all of Eastern Europe, China, there is no other way these things can end. The only way the governments can survive under these philosophies is to abandon these philosophies as China has done. Venezuela is clearly on its way, Honduras may be next if the president returns, Western Europe is trying to reverse their socialist policies currently in the face of bankruptcy, and unless we are careful in the United States we may be headed to the same place that Europe is in now, and Europe is in serious danger if they do not continue to repeal these policies.

      “So yes, I agree the state stealing from me for things I don’t want to fund is at the very least annoying, however, in a democracy we can (at least theoretically) change things in the same way you suggest changing McDonalds et al.”

      But when voting there are people who do not get what they want. Capitalism is proportional representation and each person gets what they select. Tell me in all honesty, what do you think happens in a society where wealth is not earned, but voted on? When those groups that make up a majority determines who gets the money?

      The “big man” in any society will always do well, but only in capitalism does the “small man” have a chance to succeed. Why? The “big man” in society cannot stomp their boot down on the “small man.” Vanderbilt, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, all of these people and countless more have come from the lowest of the low classes to become the top producers and wealth creators in our society. How? Freedom. Freedom is not a catch phrase and is not subdivided between civil, political, social, or economic liberty. Freedom is a point of view, a philosophy, a perspective, an ideology based on the notion that you have a right to your rights. Your life cannot be taken away from you, your right to do as you please with your life so long as you are not taking that very right away from anybody else shall not be taken away from you, and whatever you create be it an idea, your home, or enough to buy a city’s worth of houses shall not be taken away. Communism is one tyrant, anarchy is every man his own tyrant, freedom is no tyrants. Freedom doesn’t say that the temporary arrangement of material things will lean in your favor, it only says justice will be done. If you earn something in a free society, nobody can take it away from you whether it is the wages of a day’s labor pushing a broom or a year’s profits from manufacturing brooms. No matter what you do, no matter who you are, you keep what you earn and no business can take it from you and no beggar can take it from you. What is yours, is yours. How much you have is up to you.

      You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

      Bottom line; wealth cannot be multiplied by being divided.

  52. Bob Tannenbaum says:

    oy vey, roads they talk about…look, the autobahn supported tiger tanks. quess why eisenhower had the interstate built so it could support sherman tanks…and who was it said to beware the military industrial complex. the same general. hmmmm
    and tim, tina turner you ain’t. get out of your mind, and into your body. you rationalize too much. define terms before you argue guys. otherwise you go around in circles.(logical positivism)
    tim, look up dr.abraham maslow on google. then talk to me about love. abe taught at my school.
    it is called a liberal arts education for a reason.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t take Maslow on faith considering he just made it up and “liberal arts” doesn’t refer to the modern meaning of liberal.

      Your body cannot survive without your mind. You must understand the universe in order to survive. Your mind must be used to find that knowledge. Your body, like anything else, will simply rot and decay unless it is sustained. See how far you get without your mind.

      P.S. I would not have accused you following a philosophy that says the mind is impotent, that you’d be the main antagonist in Atlas Shrugged. I do believe you when you confess it though.

  53. Bob Tannenbaum says:

    and tim, while we are on the subject of roads. you are driving down a desert road and see someone stopped with the hood up and waving for assistance. do you help her? and why do you do it if you do? there is no heaven so you are not making points with a make believe god. so why do you help her or don’t help him/her? i will make it easier. the person is an old woman who looks like your grandmother. where does your philosophy lead you? and why?

  54. Bob Tannenbaum says:

    ZeroSerenity was one of many to write with news of a survey from the Pew Research Center which sought to find out how Americans feel about science and contrast that with the opinions of actual scientists. The study showed that “nearly 9 in 10 scientists accept the idea of evolution by natural selection, but just a third of the public does. And while 84% of scientists say the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, less than half of the public agrees with that.” 27% of the respondents said that the advances of the US in science are its greatest achievement, down from 44% ten years ago. The study is lengthy, and it contains many more interesting tidbits. For example: scientists decry the level of media coverage given to science, and they also think research funding has too much influence on study results. 32% of scientists identify themselves as Independent, while 55% say they’re Democrats and 6% say they’re Republicans.
    yes, and fifty million people voted for sarah palin to become the vice president of a country whose head would be an old man who was tortured for years, and could die soon….you betcha! what a country! i find it all quite amusing because i have nothing to be afraid of. i am 72 and close to death. but you young guys. be afraid….

  55. Joe Ferguson says:

    “The study showed that “nearly 9 in 10 scientists accept the idea of evolution by natural selection, but just a third of the public does. And while 84% of scientists say the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, less than half of the public agrees with that.’

    Damn. I wonder who is the one knuckle headed scientist.
    Scientific American had a good article about this subject of believing science a while back. Basically, we are programmed by evolution to accept anecdotal information over the scientific method. If Joe Natural Human is walking down the path and someone tells him, “don’t eat those mushrooms, they’re poisonous,” there is absolutely no advantage to testing out the hypothesis. If you test it out you might live or you might die. If you just don’t eat it you win.

    • tmac57 says:

      Yeah, and then there was that anecdote of “don’t take the name of thy Lord in vain, or we will stone thee to death!” That was a classic!

  56. Mike Roach says:

    From an economic viewpoint, there has to be a balance between what’s good for the individual and what’s good for society. For libertarians who think healthcare is not something the government should provide, especially Medicare and Medicaid, wait until you possibly face a catastrophic illness like I am now experiencing. Your private insurance may not be able to pick up all of the costs and then what will you do? At some point in your lives, you will have to rely on others for help and that may include the government. Pure and simple.

    • Tim says:

      Mr. Roach,

      From an economic viewpoint, there has to be a balance between what’s good for the individual and what’s good for society. The needs of society come before yours and you are clearly being greedy by demanding that society sacrifice for you simply because you think you are better than society. You should be willing to sacrifice in the name of society and do without. What about those who are truly suffering, those who have it much worse off than you. If resources are diverted to you, then that means that there is less for them. These things must be rationed for the sake of society, so you should understand that, from an economic viewpoint, the needs of society come above your needs as an individual. Pure and simple (well, more simple than pure).

      Clarity. It’s a beautiful thing.

      • Mike Roach says:

        Tim said, “You should be willing to sacrifice in the name of society and do without. What about those who are truly suffering, those who have it much worse off than you.”

        I guess you aren’t familiar with ALS. Maybe you should educate yourself before making such bone-headed comments. Someday when you’re suffering, you will be singing a different tune as well.

  57. Bob Tannenbaum says:

    my son peter has ms. he needed interferon recently. he is a citizen of both england and france. both countries agreed that he should get this drug cocktail. it is saving his life. he would not have gotten this drug from any us health care provider other than medicare. the cost per month for this drug? over a thousand dollars a month….
    clarity?
    order uber alles!
    we all pay taxes, and we all will fight for our country. and your right to spout nonsense.

    • Thom H. says:

      Bob,
      My daughter too has MS. She is currently being treated (in the US) for *free* as part of a clinical trial. So its not entirely free, she is paying through taking some risk. Prior to that though her medicine (Rebif and Copaxone) was paid for through my private insurance plan and whatever copay I had to cover. Nowhere was government intervention required nor did I expect it or even desire it. You seem to have this false dichotomy that either government does it, or it doesn’t get done. There are other ways of ‘getting it done’. I happen to believe that it would get done more efficiently and more fairly without government intrusion.

  58. Thom H. says:

    Tim, you’ve tried heroically. Based in the types of comments made, several people here seem still not to understand the concept of libertarianism. Libertarians are not against welfare, not against charity, not against being kind and polite to fellow human beings. We don’t want things for free. In fact the point is that we want to pay for everything we get. We just want to be able to make the decision about what we buy. And we want to extend that privelege to everyone. I alluded to this in my earlier post… if you feel that people poorer than you deserve free (or cheap) health care, then you should ‘put your money where your mouth is’ so to speak. I think you will find that many libertarians will also donate to such a cause if allowed to do so of their own free will. And I suspect there would be some liberals and conservatives who would not.
    One point to be made is that under a libertarian style government, we (the citizens of the good ol’ U.S. of A.) might not have everything we have today. But neither would we have a Trillion dollars of government debt. It’s big, powerful government swayed by all kinds of special interest groups that gets us into that kind of pickle.

    “A government that is big enough to give you all you want is
    big enough to take it all away.” – - Senator Barry Goldwater

  59. Hey, Shermer

    I stumbled across your defense of Napoleon Chagnon this morning. No wonder. You are a Darwininian fundamentalist with the party line on Hobbes and a capitalist ideologue. You defending Chagnon is like Limbaugh defending Dubya.

  60. B.Jerome says:

    Michael i love your stuff and consider you one of the foremost thinkers around. But, you and your other libertarian cohorts in my opinion are way off base in the structure of your thinking and arguements of such that you put forth. There are 3 primary problems I have with the libertarian style of thinking. First, and foremost it is untenablem unrealistic, and unacheiveable. Second, it doesn’t jibe with the tenets of complexity science. And third, it is patently immoral and excludes any reverance for the greatest determinant of life success..chance.

    First things first. Nobody has identified ever in the annals of human history a time when the concept of “voluntariansm” was used as a legitimate form of government. Remember the prime function of government and it’s component institutions is the “allocation of resources” which in fact cannot take place “fairly” in a libertarian society. Simple acknowledgement on “increasing returns theory” would seem to render libertarian society unachieveable. Because, before the society could ever become viable it would collapse under it’s own weight of people wanting to gain more power at the expense of others. With no control of the powerful how would a libertarian society ever come into existence in any meaningful way? My answer is it wouldn’t. Thus in my opinion libertarianism is only wishful thinking because it’s application is impossible.

    Secondly, the science of the 21st century is complexity thoery. Of which you mention is several of your books by the way. Basic complexity theory would state that individual agents cannot know the extent of their actions on the group because their ability to gather and process all relevant information is limited. So, even though agent1 believes that her actions only impact her we know through complexity theory that individual actions can through emergence create a whole that is highly unlike the invidual actions that created it. Bottomline, individuals cannot know the imact of their actions on others due to human limitations. This type of problem can be witnessed in all sorts of challenges we face from climate change to the rapidly diminshing rain forest.

    And finally, it has been proven over and over again most recently in Gladwell’s new book “Outliers” that success is in large part due to choice, chance, and circumstance. With a heavy emphsis on chance. Where you were born, when you were born, and to whom you were born are all very important to your life outcomes. It is no coencidence that libertarian thinking is primarily a result of western thinking which emphasizes the “Horatio Alger Myth” of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. When in fact this type of thinking has been proven to be faulty and an illusion of the western mind which places the individual at the center of everything including success.

    My point here is get real. Libertariansm is childs play and has no role in the serious discussion of how people should live together in thriving communities. Provide some real alternatives to the left right debate. Maybe in fact using the lessons of complexity science with it’s subordinate sciences of network theory and evolutionary theory as a sarting point to develop a science based approach to human development.

  61. Tom K says:

    Well. Y’know, in the x amount of thousand years we have been this dance called civilization, the one thing that has kept us moving forwards is this thing called balance. Liberty, as in the individual, is necessary: it is that which is there before civilization. Ownership is probable: that which individuals construct or otherwise obtain and there is the constancy of occurrence of either in joint, direct or inverse relation to the other relative to the greatest common general circumstance of individuality or ownership and the least common individual result of individuality and ownership integration.

    If we could use this model to frame the discussion, I don’t think we will remain bound to the same old thing.

    Tom

  62. Tom K says:

    More to come.