PDA

View Full Version : So tell me why I Shouldn't be a libertarian


DisturbingClown
01-08-2008, 07:30 PM
This thread is your chance to help change my political affiliation. Hint: Liberals may have an easier time of it.

DisturbingClown
01-09-2008, 06:19 AM
Or you could let my post languish awkwardly. That'd work too.

Wolfgangus
01-09-2008, 10:23 AM
You shouldn't be a libertarian because their basic philosophy is flawed. The libertarian philosophy is essentially survival of the fittest (SOTF) and this does not lead to the utopia of free-markets they think it does. In the wild, SOTF leads to lions attacking the young of their prey; for example, because it is an easy meal. SOTF is brutal and ugly, and drives out compassion, empathy, friendship and charity. Lions, for example, will kill and eat an injured member of their own pride.

The natural evolution of a free market is NOT competition, but monopolies. Although we would ideally like to see corporations compete on their products with features, options, price, quality and service, the truth is that whenever money accumulates and stakes rise, the humans running the corporations let greed take over and use the money to compete in ways that do consumers harm. They collude on pricing, they file bogus lawsuits claiming patent or trademark violations, they lower prices by exploiting workers, they threaten customers that rely upon them, they sell products under cost to drive out competition, they get laws written to raise the bar on new competititon, they sabotage their competition, spread lies and rumors and sometimes even physically attack them.

The examples are numerous; from Walmart to Microsoft to IBM to Exxon to Blackwater to Halliburton. Whether you consider them monopolies or not, they are at the top of the corporate food chain and wield power ruthlessly, and to the extreme detriment of their customers (if the customers cannot do anything about it, as in the case of Exxon, Blackwater and Halliburton) and/or their workers (as in the case of Walmart, Microsoft and IBM), and since their workers are our brothers and sisters, to the detriment of society as a whole.

Libertarians think that if you just take away enough rules, nature will work itself out into some equilibrium. That is true, but the equilibrium is effective slavery and plutocracy; rule by the rich at the expense of the masses. It lets the drug companies kill people, corporations to ignore safety and health and pay starvation wages to people that are bound to their neighborhood by circumstance.

Libertarianism is simply anti-social; it does not value anything except profit. It believes too strongly in Adam Smith's invisible hand, it works on economic theories that have been proven time and again to be so oversimplified that they fail in the real world, but libertarianism continues to tout them as the proof of their pudding, because the math looks good to them.

In truth, competition is good when it is restricted by laws that contain the competition to products, and insulate workers (by minimum wage laws and OSHA type safety and health laws) and insulate consumers (by forcing monopolies to divide into multiple competing entities, and making collusion and price-fixing dire risks).

Competition is a fantastic way to exert pressure on businesses to reduce costs, increase quality, improve service and deliver innovation. Competition is natural, but so is fire! Just like fire, we don't want it unrestrained and uncontrolled. Just as fire can be an astonishingly effective tool, so can competition, but in neither case do we want the "natural" form of the tool. The natural result of unconstrained fire is a wasteland, and the natural result of unconstrained competition is also a wasteland of predation, exploitation, class heirarchy and effective slavery.

This is why I am a liberal, not a libertarian.

Hoofin
01-12-2008, 07:11 AM
Well, I don't know about all of that. But if you want to be a librarian, it sounds fine to me.

I don't think the internet will kill off books, a lot of people still enjoy the feel of paper and ease of print on the eyes. The smell of old books. The joys of picking up a good novel, or resource text, and just taking in the plot or the narrative, or the new knowledge gained.

bjkeefe
01-12-2008, 02:47 PM
Dist:

You might have a look at the link that David_PA supplied in this comment (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=68437#post68437) (and my response (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=68441#post68441)).

Wolfgangus
01-12-2008, 05:20 PM
Here is an article by Michael Kinsley on this topic; he is one of my favorite columnists:
The Church Doctrines of Pope Ron Paul (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content//article/2008/01/11/AR2008011101859.html?hpid=opinionsbox1)

DisturbingClown
01-13-2008, 01:02 AM
OT: Didn't wapo used to have a subscription wall? Glad those abominations finally seem to be going away. Thanks for the replies everyone.

Hoofin
01-13-2008, 11:33 AM
Don't you miss the mindlessness and frustration of making you log in to read Washington Post online? I think the LA Times liked to do that, too.

Nothing like making the use of a news site frustrating. What a way to generate repeat hits.

TwinSwords
01-13-2008, 03:47 PM
As long as folks have cookies enabled on their browsers, they should only have to log in one time, and then they would be pretty much set forever, unless they switch to another computer, or clear out their cookies.

bjkeefe
01-13-2008, 07:20 PM
I'll echo what Twin said. The WaPo never charged for access that I ever saw (except maybe to their archives, which I'm not sure about).

They do, as do many other newspapers' sites, ask you to register to access much of their content. Yes, this is mildly irksome. But, it's free, nearly painless, and as Twin notes, logging in is sticky. As with the BH.tv forums, if you log in once and don't explicitly log out, you should remain logged in for future visits from the same computer. Maybe you're blocking or deleting cookies, Hoofin?

I'll modify this with one observation: It seems that the cookies set by a lot of newspapers' sites do go stale, in the sense that if you don't visit the site, say, once every couple of weeks, you get asked to log in again on your next visit.

I have some friends who refuse to buy into this registration step, out of concerns about privacy or worries about spam. Maybe that's what bugs you, Hoofin? If so, all I can say in response is that the newspaper sites that I visit don't spam me, and judging by the ads that they display, they have no clue about anything personal about me.

TwinSwords
01-13-2008, 08:59 PM
I'll modify this with one observation: It seems that the cookies set by a lot of newspapers' sites do go stale, in the sense that if you don't visit the site, say, once every couple of weeks, you get asked to log in again on your next visit.

That's a good point. I've often wondered why I occasionally need to re-enter the name/password. I'd say that happens about once per year, but I visit both NYT and WaPo religiously.



I have some friends who refuse to buy into this registration step, out of concerns about privacy or worries about spam. Maybe that's what bugs you, Hoofin? If so, all I can say in response is that the newspaper sites that I visit don't spam me, and judging by the ads that they display, they have no clue about anything personal about me.

I have a free Hotmail account I use just to sign up for stuff on the internet. This way my "real" email account will presumably stay spam-free.

This worked for several years, until a friend starting plugging my email address into those "Send this story to a friend" forms on various web sites. Within a day of her doing that I started getting spam.

Hoofin
01-14-2008, 01:53 PM
My gripe is with having to remember scores of passwords (even if try and use the same passwords).

Occasionally, I will use software that will wipe out my cookies. But I don't have any immediate prejudice for some site to stick a cookie in my machine.

Maybe the news sites are getting some value out of knowing that ol' Hoofin has returned to read again. But I begin to feel like it's some practice of the early internet era that didn't quite work the way it was supposed to (as a prelude to pay content). And now they keep up the practice because they can collect e-mail addresses.

Or that no one has the confidence to admit that ALL the other news sites that DON'T ask for registration just might be on to something.

bjkeefe
01-14-2008, 03:51 PM
My gripe is with having to remember scores of passwords (even if try and use the same passwords).

An understandable complaint. On the other hand, I don't really think it needs to be scores. I don't see what the big deal would be if you were to use the same password for all sites where security isn't an issue -- that is, sites where you visit only to read -- and only use that password for such sites.

A second option is to use one of the many password manager programs available. I don't use any of these myself, but many people seem to like them. In fact, now that I think about it, Firefox will remember some or all of your passwords for you, and automatically enter them as necessary, should you desire to enable that option. Presumably other browsers have similar functionality.

Occasionally, I will use software that will wipe out my cookies. But I don't have any immediate prejudice for some site to stick a cookie in my machine.

I run antispyware software every so often, and these programs will delete tracking cookies, but they don't seem to consider the "remember me" cookies as anything to delete. I don't know what software you use, but I have two reactions: either the software you're using is crummy (it's deleting stuff just so it can claim that it "found something"), or you've got the settings turned up too high. Maybe the more likely reason that you get asked for passwords is that you don't visit some of the sites often enough to keep their respective cookies "fresh." It's my somewhat vague impression that the NYTimes, WaPo, LATimes, and Boston Globe, for example, all set cookies that last between a couple of weeks and a couple of months.

Maybe the news sites are getting some value out of knowing that ol' Hoofin has returned to read again. But I begin to feel like it's some practice of the early internet era that didn't quite work the way it was supposed to (as a prelude to pay content). And now they keep up the practice because they can collect e-mail addresses.

I agree somewhat. There is a vestigial feel to this apparatus, especially since it's now so much easier to track users in other ways. As to the collection of email addresses, I doubt that's the reason for maintaining the practice, though it might have been true in earlier days. I get no email from any newspaper site that I haven't explicitly signed up for, and as far as I can tell, my email addresses aren't sold or shared. I used to create new email accounts whenever I had to register at some site; by using this technique, I never saw any indication that the new email address had been given to a third party. I'm not saying every newspaper site on the planet is this responsible, but every one I've ever dealt with does seem to be.

Or that no one has the confidence to admit that ALL the other news sites that DON'T ask for registration just might be on to something.

I am more inclined to think there are other reasons at work. First, the registration infrastructure is already in place, and it would cost more money to disable it than it does just to leave it alone. Second, automatic data collection, once implemented, is so cheap that there will always be some who say, "Why not keep collecting it? We might find a use for it someday."

bjkeefe
01-14-2008, 10:37 PM
P.S. This article may be of interest to you: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2008/01/safeguarding_your_passwords_1.html

Baltimoron
01-19-2008, 12:17 AM
Excellent essay!

I do not intend to insult you with my brevity by any means. But, why can't people understand that there are economic laws, just like there are physical laws. No one doubts the existence of gravity on earth.or that man cannot fly, but, too, no one tries to outlaw flying or the construction of jets and balloons. And, too, no one tries to live with two feet anchored to the ground at all times. Libertarians are those people. That is, if there not closet racists and other sorts of crackpots!

Wolfgangus
01-19-2008, 03:44 PM
Why can't people understand that there are economic laws, just like there are physical laws.

Because it is simply not true. Physical laws work every time. If you fall off the roof you do not sometimes fly in the air. Economic "laws" do not work every time; the law of supply and demand is not akin to gravity. Sometimes it fails. Economic "laws" are predicated on the idea that consumers are rational, and although they usually present some semblance of rationality, they are also provably irrational often enough to make the "laws" more like trends.

No one tries to live with two feet anchored to the ground at all times. Libertarians are those people.

I think the opposite; Libertarians are the ones with their heads in the clouds regardless of how reality might intervene in their airy theories. They would like to eliminate the minimum wage, even though we can look at the history of the USA before there was no minimum wage and observe the indentured servitude, hopelessness and massive worker abuse that demanded the minimum wage in the first place, and which was corrected by the minimum wage. But their little three or four lines on a supply and demand chart tells them there should not be a minimum wage, so they stick to their guns. The fact that economic benefit to the workers did not increase under the old system does not dissuade them: They cannot see the problem except through the lens of mathematics and the math doesn't say that.

There are hundreds of other examples. There are no economic laws which are always true, period. This is because economics in our society is a function of human psychology, and there are no hard and fast rules of human psychology; we can't count on anything being always true. You can posit scenarios that seem to work reliably, and things that seem to be almost always true, but there are no "laws". Sometimes even a well-financed company selling the best product at the lowest price fails. Sometimes the company selling total crap at a premium thrives. People act completely outside their own economic interest out of charity, out of spite, out of laziness, out of shame or embarrassment, out of pride, out of a sense of fairness, or out of a sense of outrage. Billion dollar mergers have been blown because one guy felt slighted by another. You can't predict what people will be feeling, and that precludes the formation of "economic laws".

Baltimoron
02-07-2008, 09:27 PM
Taking your criticism to heart, I am willing, as Tom Green argues, to admit I am a creature of Paul Samuelson's design (http://adbusters.org/the_magazine/include/print.php?id=243). I'm willing to admit, after Green's second scenario (http://adbusters.org/the_magazine/include/print.php?id=244), that resource maintenance is important.

However, I would have to draw the line at maintaining a disciplinary standard by which politicians and advisers can decide what policies are optimal under what conditions. I wouldn't ignore hypotheses, like feminism and ecology, which I find very insightful. But, if I do make an assumption, such as utility, it shouldn't make the conclusions more complicated than life itself. I have no problem introducing laxity, but there are trade-offs to consider. Front-loading laxity, by introducing too many assumptions, is not science, and does not lead to good policy-making, but is rather wishful thinking.

Wolfgangus
02-08-2008, 01:18 AM
However, I would have to draw the line at maintaining a disciplinary standard by which politicians and advisers can decide what policies are optimal under what conditions.

I don't advocate that, either.

I wouldn't ignore hypotheses, like feminism and ecology, which I find very insightful.

It depends on what you mean by "feminism", but I am cautiously on your side. Some feminists seem to think they should vote for Hillary because she is female and would be the first female president; that is misandry just as strong as the misogyny they formed to combat.


I have no problem introducing laxity, but there are trade-offs to consider. Front-loading laxity, by introducing too many assumptions, is not science, and does not lead to good policy-making, but is rather wishful thinking.

I am not sure where this laxity came from. We are talking about what is wrong with libertarianism, which is essentially too much laxity, because it is based on, as you point out, 1948 Samuelson economics, which is based on totally implausible assumptions about how people act and why. If you want science (as I do) then it helps to start considering the oft-replicated results from human psychology in micro-economics, and to understand things such as marginal utility (why a 50 cent coupon is worth more to a college student than it is to a college professor), prestige buying, charity buying, shame buying, propitiary buying, and so on.

The main beef against libertarianism is that in the wild and wooly days of yesteryear, their models were tried and failed, and they haven't changed them a whit. Most Libertarians I have talked to or heard talk want zero controls on business by government, period. You can't get much more laxity than that. A sensible person, however, understands that competition works best when the rules are clear. When we run the olympic foot races, we don't allow contestants to trip each other, leave their lane, drug or threaten or sabotage or beat up or bribe their opponents. The competition is strictly controlled so the opponents compete on only one dimension, athleticism.

In business and markets, strict control makes competition work as well, and the controls need to constrain the companies to compete on only one dimension, customer satisfaction. Now that dimension can bifurcate into satisfaction based on price, or service, or quality, or convenience, or ego stroking, or exclusivity, or any number of factors that make customers think they got a good deal.

But what we do not want is businesses competing by filing harassment lawsuits against their competitors, by sabotaging their competition, by getting laws passed giving them exclusive contracts, by holding customers hostage when they have a monopoly, by screwing the environment in order to make a profit, by exploiting slave and child labor in other countries, by poisoning and endangering and threatening their workers in order to keep prices down, by using a financial advantage to undercut competition and put them out of business so they can maintain an effective local monopoly, by threatening a bank with loss of their account if the bank loans a startup competitor money, and on and on. There are myriad ways that companies use to compete (and often succeed with) that have nothing to do with the best interest of their customers, and often that work directly against the best interest of their customers. (I'm lookin' at you, Microsoft and Exxon and Halliburton). That is the laxity that must be controlled. Then just like the Olympics has enough rules to make sure the only way to win really is to run the fastest or jump the highest, business competition would really work to make sure the only way to win was to maximize customer satisfaction, that even trying to compete in some orthogonal dimension would have the potential to disqualify you from the game entirely.

The question isn't about laxity, or soft-heartedness about caring for our fellow man. The big question with libertarianism is how to control businesses, and they plump for minimal controls, when maximum controls of the right kind are needed. The "right kind" are the kind of rules that keep them in their lane, competing on customer satisfaction only.

Baltimoron
02-08-2008, 01:42 AM
I'm arguing for keeping the stripped-down Samuelson positive economic position, with a professional regard for other multiple models. Your suggestion about marginal utility is acceptable. But then, you go on to normative concerns, like the progressive arguments for breaking monopolies. These are apples and oranges, positive and normative economics.

Back to the original point, pols can do what they want with economic policy, but policies cannot alter what the various models predict. For each assumption one places into the basic Samuelson model, there will be a trade-off, someone else will be harmed or benefit. Politically, that makes a huge difference. Since richer individuals can lobby more productively than poorer groups, a little pain for the former resulting from a given policy will result in a quicker response, and probably a political solution favorable to the former.

Wolfgangus
02-08-2008, 09:29 AM
But then, you go on to normative concerns, like the progressive arguments for breaking monopolies. These are apples and oranges,

I don't see that at all. Arguments about marginal utility and psychological drivers for economic behavior are simply ridiculous if they do not drive policy; Neither I nor libertarians are content with just knowing why things are happening. The Libertarian philosophy is just as normative as mine is; they say, "Look, our supply and demand religion should solve this problem, so we shouldn't do anything to interfere even if we feel empathy for the victims, it will sort itself out," which is a decision on governance just as much as mine.

We don't study things just for the fun of it, studying economic behavior and psychology is like studying biology or chemistry. The understanding of what is going on in those fields leads directly to medicine and useful products, and our study should lead us directly to useful, effective policy. Understanding marginal utility and the internal "defensive fort" psychology of monopolies leads directly to understanding their behavior, and knowing how that behavior harms the citizens that are becoming victims instead of customers should directly inform our policy.

Libertarianism philosophy has normative effect in the laws they want to pass and the laws they want to repeal, the taxes they want to eliminate, and the benefits they want to remove from people that need them. Non-libertarian philosophy (Not necessarily liberal or progressive) is equally entitled to normative effect in the laws to pass.

The reason to break up monopolies or near monopolies is because there are certain unavoidable psychological consequences of owning a monopoly; primarily the fact that it is always faster, cheaper and easier to stop seeds from growing into competitors than it is to improve products or prices or service to beat competitors.

One false assumption of Samuelson economics is that bigger leads to economies of scale, because companies can buy in bulk, manage more effectively, advertise cheaper, cut out middlemen (and their profits) and take advantage of specializations that smaller companies cannot. Yet of course that doesn't work, because due to human pyschology, bigger companies are more bloated, more top heavy in management, and pay far more to the CEO than small companies can pay their CEOs. Big companies are less productive, per dollar, than are small companies.

Monopolies are the extreme. The documented cases of monopolistic abuse by Microsoft in the 90's are sworn testimony on record; MS threatened Dell (their customer) with cutting off MS Windows if they tried to put Netscape on the computers, despite the fact that Dell was considering it because Dell customers were requesting Netscape from them. It was easier for MS to threaten a customer and deprive the market of a superior product than to make a decent browser. They had to wait until Netscape proved there was a market for a better browser before they would act; in the meantime they were working on useless cartoon style animation widgets for XP. It was the classic monopoly pyschology at work; protecting their fort by competing on dimensions completely orthogonal to customer satisfaction.

Understanding this, and understanding why it occurs, is central to the policy of preventing monopolies. Non-monopolies must compete for customers, and when customers have an equally competitive choice non-monopolies are forced to pay attention to them. To some extent non-monopolies engage in turf-protecting behavior as well, but it is usually kept in check by their competitors.

Once a dominant market favorite emerges, however, it no longer needs to really compete for customers, due to the psychology of customers and their marginal utility expectations. The company sales become essentially automatic and not of much concern to the officers, they begin to manage profit and features instead of survival. The details and sales visits and customer relations can be taken care of by people on lower floors. Psychologically speaking, the marginal utility of pressing the accountants and factory managers to be efficient and save a million here or there becomes low; when the money flows like a river and fills up a swimming pool a day with hundred dollar bills, a wasted million or two means nothing.

But the flip side of all this free money is a fear of returning to the days of uncertainty and competing on product. So wasting a million or two to crush a competitor with bogus lawsuits he can't afford (as MS has done) or stealing a patent while planning to tie it up in courts for a decade (as MS has done) or threatening customers that have no choice but to use your product become Standard Operating Practice. If you own the monopoly (or work for it) it is no longer in your best interest to allow customers any choice whatsoever; and certainly not in your best interest to let any company survive that even tries to compete with you on any front. Just like royal kings, instead of devoting attention to making your populace [customers] happy, which is very expensive because the multipliers are huge, it is easier to focus on repressing dissent [competition] by any means necessary, because we can focus overwhelming resources on a point: The small group of dissidents [the upstart competitor].

Those same resources put into customer satisfaction might not make a dent at all and would let the cancer of competition grow uncontrolled. A million dollars spread over ten million customers doesn't phase them at all, because of their perceptions of marginal utility. But a million dollars spent on frivolous lawsuits can annihilate an upstart competitor.

I always hear about how Linux competes with MS, and that is crap. MS doesn't respond to anything Linux does. Linux costs zero dollars, it is free, so if it were a true competitor for MS, MS would not exist (read your Samuelson chart, it says so!). This means Linux is not considered by users as an equal replacement for MS Windows, and not even close, and that means MS Windows really has no competitors, making it a monopoly.

When a company no longer needs to respond to pricing pressure from its putative "competitors", it is a monopoly. Which is fine if it is the local fancy restaurant bringing in a few million a year, but as the revenue rises the temptation to invest in turf-protecting behavior instead of customer satisfaction becomes irresistable.

Regulation to prevent the most egregious of such turf-protecting behavior is one way to counter that, and should exist. But it does not solve the problem completely, because people are endlessly inventive in how to harm their competitors, by legal, extra-legal and illegal means. The real solution is to reintroduce competition: And this is the psychological reason for breaking up a monopoly.

The true test of when a company is a monopoly relies on whether it is forced to respond to competition; but I would guess that at about 80% of market and $250M in revenue it is definitely a monopoly, and should be divided into two competitors equal in every way, except for leadership.

Of course it is normative; but on that count there is no difference between this position and libertarianism which is just as normative. The difference is that I (along with sociologists and pyschologists that have documented this kind of behavior) roughly understand the psychology of what is happening, while libertarians wilfully ignore it so they can crowbar the situation into their mathematical model. Suggesting a hands-off approach is still suggesting a governance approach. It is just the wrong one, because it never leads to the outcomes promised by the libertarian.

Hoofin
02-20-2008, 11:15 AM
I just think if you like books, go for it. I know of very few liberarians who have regretted their career move.

Just make sure you let people take out and read any book they like. That seems to be critical.

Jeff Morgan
03-13-2008, 12:32 PM
I'm largely with Wolfgangus.

Cooperation is most competitive.

Nature is a example of a competitive system; think of species off the top of your head and you'll probably notice that members of those species work together (organize into cooperative groups) and are interdependent. Notice the absence of species of loners.

If you're self-interested, libertarian disorganization is not good news for you. Note: government kinda defines a cooperative group of humans.


Economic detail:
Natural market dynamics are great and desirable whenever possible, but the determinants of those dynamics aren't had for all things we demand.

First obvious example is highways, usually everyone recognizes highways as okay for the government to do because you can't have multiple highway services coexisting, so on and so forth.

Thomas Paine inspired illustration: throw a couple dozen guys on an island, what rules/agreements would naturally arise... So say they want a highway. Usually the story goes: no one alone can afford it and only if they all pitch in can they do it (or that they would all benefit from it so the cost should be on all of them).

But instead, imagine there is one guy on the island that is rich enough to build the highway on his own. Then cooperative organization (gov't) isn't required. So the guy takes all the cost but is going to do this toll-road style. He'll profit eventually, and he wouldn't build it if he didn't. After he makes back initial cost, the regular guys are still paying and what you get is polarization in wealth distribution over time, because you have all the regular guys continue to pay the rich guy while the rich guy is incurring no costs.
After a couple decades, the islanders would probably realize if they just went government style, they could have avoided all these additional costs.

Go back to before the highway was built. Knowing those two futures, it would be in your economic self-interest to demand the government run highway, and thank you democracy (democracy itself is the antithesis of some libertarian veins), demand can be expressed independent of wealth so all the regular guys outweigh the rich guy.

Extend metaphor: traffic on highway as economic activity generally. Notice tolls the rich guy collects would be roughly proportional to economic activity (as opposed to initial cost inefficiency that libertarians often attribute to government activity as axiom), and thus literally be a tax. The regular islanders of course would gain from the highway or else they wouldn't use it, but they end up far behind where they could have been. And there is no stopping leakage; the rich guy could buy a million dollar diamond from another island.

I think this is a good analogy to what we see currently with the expanding income gap, investment money going overseas, and paying $50 every month for an internet service that costs a tenth as much to provide. I only wish government could have started a public fully fiber-optic network nationwide in the early 90's.