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-   -   Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank) (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?t=7089)

popcorn_karate 10-12-2011 07:42 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by rfrobison (Post 228019)
Yes. It's clearly selfish and immoral of me to demand that people pay the full cost of their own dang mail.

sorry geoff, these are your people : (



civil liberties should be the common ground for left and libertarian to start an alliance, but the economics will, i think, always get in the way.

stephanie 10-12-2011 07:46 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by rfrobison (Post 228021)
"America is different" argument

Regarding the postal service, this is somewhat true. I think cragger's post on the topic is really good. I'd also note that the postal service is referenced in the Constitution, has a lot of sentimental historical value for a lot of people, has been seen as an important government service due to the size of the country and spread of the population, and plus stamps!

Beyond this, the fact is that the postal service has generally operated almost like a separate corporation (although it's not classified that way) and as others have pointed out was self-supporting and financially solid prior to those changes in '06 that led to a deficit (which does not actually mean it's not financially solid). My impression is that even before '06 -- indeed, related to the demands in '06 -- there was a dislike of the postal service by some on the right for ideological reasons, and that just seems odd to me. It certainly doesn't seem like it's truly related to concerns about government waste or the government expanding. Indeed, the postal service is a really bad argument for government expansion given that we've always had it.

Now, sure, explore what other countries do and see if it could be better. Certainly the demand for what the postal service does is greatly reduced. But the insistance that it would be better if privatized strikes me as nothing more than a statement of faith -- related to the first principles conversation in the other thread.

(My city privatized the parking meters. I am not convinced this is better or results in better service. I suppose one could compare who operated them most efficiently, in terms of making the most money or whatever measure one would apply there.)

rfrobison 10-12-2011 07:49 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by cragger (Post 228002)
I'm at a loss as to why I would want to pay more for a service if that service passes your definitation of privately provided rather than publicly so. Apparantly a desire to obtain a service as efficiently and cheaply as possible rather than concerning myself over the label applied to the hand that accepts the payment places one on some "side of the aisle" by your definition. Seems like pragmatism to me, or perhaps old fashioned New England skinflint conservatism but then I'm not viewing the world through your ideology. And of course as Starwatcher noted elsewhere, the USPS is essentially a fee-for-service operation just like the private carriers it competes with, however much any brush with the government taints it in your worldview.

The remainder of your response seems of a kind with other posts you have made in this thread, consisting as they do largely of straw men and partisan ideological ranting. Far from my implying US exceptionalism or that we cannot learn from other countries on this or any other issue, you seem to be suggesting that private carriers in the US are incapable of learning from private carriers overseas since they have thus far been incapable of capturing the remaining USPS business through competition. I suspect that this is untrue, and that there are indeed differences in the service and economics in the US. These would likely include such things as the size of the US, the distribution of the population, the resultant transport distances, the methods of transport used by mail in various places and countries, the degree to which those methods might be publicly subsidized in various countries and places, the resulting cost structure for transporting letters, and so on. Consideration of such real world factors does require more than simply claiming USPS=government=Bad! and labeling anyone who doesn't immediately agree a "lefty" however, and since that latter enterprise isn't one of much interest to me, I leave the thread to you.

I'm not sure why the U.S. needs a publicly owned postal service. That's all. I pointed out that there are other countries that seem to get by without them. The U.S. fiscal situation is completely out of control. If anything at all could be done on the spending side to ameliorate this problem, we ought to take a look at it.

For the third time: The postal service is neither here nor there, in the larger scheme of things. But whenever anyone suggests the government ought not to be in the business of X, he or she is accused of wanting to create a Hobbesian nightmare world of all against all.

Not true, in my case. As for partisanship, I'm as mild-mannered as they come. You're looking at one of Jon Huntsman's three Republican supporters.

If the USPS's monopoly on first-class mail were removed and all its subsidies halted, then I would have no problem with a "public" mail service. Much like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it has built-in advantages based on its government backing. It's costly, inefficient and other countries that are otherwise lavish welfare states get along just fine without them.

But America is different...I guess.

miceelf 10-12-2011 07:49 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by rfrobison (Post 228020)
So when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency it was "trivially easy" for them to gut the postal service, but when the Democrats had the same advantage they could do nothing.

Hmm, I guess my party is just more effective. That's why all the girls love those right-wingers!

Possibly so. The Republicans have engaged in a whole host of legislative tactics that were quite rare until the 90s and only slightly less rare until around 2008.

miceelf 10-12-2011 07:53 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by stephanie (Post 228024)
(My city privatized the parking meters. I am not convinced this is better or results in better service. I suppose one could compare who operated them most efficiently, in terms of making the most money or whatever measure one would apply there.)

Good Lord, if your city is my city (and I suspect it is), the answer is definitely not better service. We essentially sold off a public good/revenue stream for some quick money, and the trade was that everyone pays a LOT more for parking with absolutely no improvement in service (indeed, some real problems).

miceelf 10-12-2011 07:55 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by rfrobison (Post 228025)
If the USPS's monopoly on first-class mail were removed and all its subsidies halted, then I would have no problem with a "public" mail service. Much like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it has built-in advantages based on its government backing. It's costly, inefficient and other countries that are otherwise lavish welfare states get along just fine without them.

But America is different...I guess.

America is sexy.

But I have two questions:

1. What is the value, exactly of the monopoly on the label "first class mail"? And what would result from the removal of this monopoly?

2. Which subsidies?

rfrobison 10-12-2011 07:58 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by popcorn_karate (Post 228023)
sorry geoff, these are your people : ( ...

ARRRRGH!

I'm not a libertarian. Never have been. Never will be. I suggested that the postal service might be privatized and was promptly hauled in front of the rhetorical firing squad for harboring Dirty Libertarian Thoughts.

Sorry. Look, maybe we should just hand everything over to the government and let D.C. lead us to the promised land. Everyone knows that the public sector is filled exclusively with women and men who care for naught but the public good, whereas the private sector is infested with selfish jerks who only care about toys for themselves.

Maybe the Khmer Rouges had it right after all.

miceelf 10-12-2011 08:04 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by rfrobison (Post 228031)
I'm not a libertarian. Never have been. Never will be. I suggested that the postal service might be privatized and was promptly hauled in front of the rhetorical firing squad for harboring Dirty Libertarian Thoughts.

Firing squad? Khmer rouge? Isn't that slightly overblown?

I suggested why I thought that privatization wouldn't be the same here, and noted some reasons for USPS's current problems. I don't recall comparing you to any dictator, or suggesting rhetorical or real violence or anything of the sort?

stephanie 10-12-2011 08:11 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by miceelf (Post 228027)
Good Lord, if your city is my city (and I suspect it is), the answer is definitely not better service. We essentially sold off a public good/revenue stream for some quick money, and the trade was that everyone pays a LOT more for parking with absolutely no improvement in service (indeed, some real problems).

Yeah, that's my view too. I was just trying to be more tempered in my commentary. ;-) Also, more seriously, in trying to analogize to the post office and noting Rob's comment about "why should I subsidize mail delivery for anyone else," I was trying to focus just on efficiencies -- not service for users -- and thus considering whether the private company makes more than the city did. I dunno there. Nor is that my main concern, no doubt because I'm a secret socialist.

popcorn_karate 10-12-2011 08:33 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by miceelf (Post 228032)
I don't recall comparing you to any dictator, or suggesting rhetorical or real violence or anything of the sort?

you're obviously overlooking my violent, and potentially genocidal, deployment of the frowny-face.

rfrobison 10-12-2011 08:46 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by popcorn_karate (Post 228037)
you're obviously overlooking my violent, and potentially genocidal, deployment of the frowny-face.

That's where it starts, PK. But where does it end?! ;)

I will concede that I've allowed myself to go off the deep end a bit in my recent exchanges. But I get pretty frustrated when, on those occasions where I let my "libertarian" side peek out, I hear no real argument about the substance, but instead get roughly:

Aww, whatabunchoflibertarianfantasyrepublicanswanttorui namericaandsodoyou...

Perhaps this is analogous to how many liberals react to the "socialism" label, one which I don't think is accurate or fair, either.

rfrobison 10-12-2011 09:01 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Will try to take up your questions later, micelf, though I'm already going to half-capitulate by saying I am not an expert on the postal service.

Get back to you.

rfrobison 10-12-2011 09:41 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Good points.

Again, as a practical matter, I have no particular brief for privatizing USPS. If, in fact, they cover their costs wholly or nearly so based on user fees, then fine. The government does a lot of things reasonably well and I am familiar with the concept of natural monopolies. In such cases, public provision makes sense. I strongly suspect, however, that parcel and letter delivery does not meet that test, otherwise the private carriers would have no way to make money.

I don't know anything at all about the definition of "first class mail," other than it's a thing which the private sector is barred from delivering. I have a visceral dislike of monopolies (blame my econ professors) and IF this one could be scrapped while maintaining service levels comparable to those that exist now, why not do it?

As to your second point, and at the risk of again being accused of libertarian ogrehood (not by you), I see no inherent reason why someone living in the wilds of Alaska shouldn't have to pay a bit more for his or her mail delivery or pickup than another someone in Manhattan, say. Nor do I think it makes sense to charge the same amount to deliver a package 10 blocks as 1,000 miles.

To conclude (and reiterate): The government has plenty on its plate right now. Anything that can be done to reduce the strain it is under ought to be on the table, as you suggest.

And no, I'm not against any and all tax increases, for anyone in the peanut gallery about to slam me with the "mindless spending cut" charge.

uncle ebeneezer 10-12-2011 09:43 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Sure! It's a deal. You can even put a "Why Should I???" sticker on it next to WWJD.

Ocean 10-12-2011 09:44 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Geoff99 (Post 228014)
I don't mean to pick on Ocean particularly, but this comment is sadly typical of the kind of wild bigotry that self-identified libertarians have to put up whenever they mention their political views. (This is evidenced as well by several other comments on this thread --- I just picked Ocean's as a typical one.) Bob has many libertarians in the diavlogs here. Have you ever heard even one of them say anything remotely like "why do I have to pay for someone else's (insert here: health, education, mail, safety, roads, etc.)?" ? No.

Yes, as others have already pointed out.

You may go back and argue that such commenters aren't really libertarians, but I hear such claims mostly from self proclaimed libertarians. I can't attest to the purity of their ideas.



Quote:

What you invariably hear from the vast majority of libertarians is that having recognized the obvious need for government action in many. many spheres we want to find ways to (1) decentralize the accumulation of power and making of particular regulations to conform more closely to what individuals already want in order to improve efficiency,
I will agree that's a noble goal. Libertarians worry about accumulation of power by the state because they see the state as an oppressor. Liberals worry about accumulation of power by corporations and those who control wealth. We think those are the real oppressors. Citizens have some control over governments (by electing their representatives in democracies), but none over corporations.

The efficiency part is always good. Private corporations increase (sometimes) efficiency to increase profit. That profit flows to those who control the corporations.

Trickle down hasn't trickled yet. It just gets stuck with the wealthiest who become wealthier, while the poor have been becoming poorer.

Quote:

(2) have a more transparent process in order to minimize corruption,
Only the corrupt would disagree with that.

Quote:

(3) be more circumspect about always rushing in to solve every problem with state intervention that may or may not be effective, and
No one wants to solve problems with ineffective interventions. But problems need to be solved. Ignoring the problem or believing that there will be some autocorrection driven by markets, isn't acceptable.

Quote:

(4) minimize the wild war-mongering and police-state tactics that so many mainstream conservatives and liberals seem to think are just wonderful. these days
War mongering hasn't been the preference of the left. I'm certainly not someone who would support it.

In terms of police-state, you would have to define it better. I'm not for excessive policing and I'm respectful of privacy and personal choice. However, there are some societal circumstances that may require more stringent policing. So, again, I guess I would only discuss this in a case by case basis.


Quote:

This is what you find 80-90% of actual libertarians saying and writing if you bother to look. Maybe you think, for example, that a bunch of know-nothing, whining mainstream Republicans like the tea party people are actually libertarians, but you are sorely mistaken --- notice you never hear these tea party types saying they are libertarians. Unfortunately. if anyone says he or she is a libertarian, such a person immediately has to hear some wild rant about Ayn Rand and how they don't want to have roads or public schools, when none but the most extreme anarchists are saying anything like this.
Unfortunately, if what you're saying is true, it looks like true libertarians have a PR problem since the above stuff is what indeed reaches the non-libertarian audience. If there's a better brand of libertarianism, it would be nice to hear it. We had a couple of representatives in BhTV who are closer to what you're describing (Lindsay, Wilkinson), but it looks like they are no longer linked to Cato and I'm not sure what libertarian joint is giving them a forum.


Quote:

But the prejudice and bigotry of mainstream conservatives and liberals toward self identified libertarians seems invincible.
I wouldn't call it prejudice or bigotry. I respond directly to the claims that I read here or to statements by diavloggers. It isn't only about principles but about how those principles are applied. Recently we had an example with Ron Paul's statements in response to Wolf in CNN regarding health care. His response to the problem of someone who had an accident, requires medical care and doesn't have health insurance is that the church should take care of him. Huh? How is that going to happen? The person is in the emergency room in some hospital, what is he suggesting that should be done? In my opinion that's where these ideas fail. They don't connect directly to reality. They only exist in the abstract. In order to work there would have to be another thousand conditions met, which, of course, are no where near to be met. I would take libertarians seriously if they proposed something that has some bearing on reality.


Quote:

Notice what happened in this particular diavlog, when Matt tried to raise this point with Robert Frank --- he was totally ignored, and then, later we heard from Frank, amazingly, that Matt, the editor of what is probably the main libertarian opinion journal, was not a "movement [ i.e. real] libertarian". Apparently the definition of libertarian in the mind of Frank and so many others is something like "totally unreasonable blockheaded anarchist", so that anybody who has a reasonable, intelligent, and non-crazy view of things is automatically not a real libertarian. Matt tried to gently explain that Frank was being (ridiculously) crude about this, but of course again got totally ignored.

Anyway, I wondered if any or many of the self-identified liberals and/or conservatives that read the comments here have ever noticed how odd this behaviour is, or had any speculation about what the cause is.
As I said, I believe that those of us who have issues with self proclaimed libertarians are basing the same on the disconnect that those ideas have with the real world, the excessive trust on capital, corporations, private enterprises and free markets side by side with distrust (verging on paranoia)* of the state. Additionally libertarians have a PR problem if what is made known about them to the general public is a distorted view due to having louder voices owning the label of libertarians but not representing its purity.

Lastly, I find it ironic that I would in any way defend the power of the state or the government, when I grew up under an authoritarian regime (dictatorship) and learned to repudiate that form of government and the corruption behind it. But it is clear to me that the overreach of corporations and the power of wealth is even more dangerous because it only represents the interest of those who own it and the rest of the people (the 99% if you want), have absolutely no collective control over that power.

That's as much as I can say. I'll leave the rest to those who know better.

Geoff99 10-12-2011 10:17 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by uncle ebeneezer (Post 228016)
Also too, the "why-should-I-have-to-pay" clause is something that almost every libertarian I have ever spoken to or engaged with in online debate, has uttered on numerous occasions. It is a common libertarian trope that springs up anytime they are asked to justify the denial of public goods and services to fellow Americans, that would result from the enactment of their preferred policies.

I do have to admit that cragger is quite right to point out that this "why-should-I-have-to-pay" stuff was said in this thread about the post office, so I was a bit careless. And it's certainly true that there are people who make this kind of argument. I was mainly interested in the way in which Frank seemed to just completely refuse to engage with Welch in the actual diavlog. And it really seemed to be because he had so many preconceived notions about what a libertarian wold do or say that having an actual lobirtarian there that didn't conform to all these prejudices was just something he couldn't process.
I do think that what cragger and ebeneezer bring up doesn't necessarily effect my claims about what many or most libertarians think about such matters. Claims that this springs up "anytime" is really not true, although it may well be true that enough relatively extreme libertarians post on this site so that it seems to uncle ebeneezer that this is broadly typical. The point I was trying to make is that the default assumption about any libertarian seems to be that he or she is some kind of extremist anarchist or Randian, rather as if all liberals were immediately assumed to be Leninists that wanted to abolish private property and set up a dictatorship of the proletariat. The fact that the libertarian and libertarian-leaning participants in the actual diavlogs on this site never seem to be saying anything like these extreme Randian things ought to be evidence that the typical libertarian doesn't think in this way, rather than, as Robert Frank seemed to think, evidence that these people aren't real libertarians. In fact they are utterly typical ones, which is why they are the spokespeople that you see here as bloggingheads. It seems a little crazy. Anyway, I don't want to be a big whiner about this (well, maybe a little...), even though it is pretty annoying to have every libertarian tarred with the same brush by references to stuff like "libertarian nonsense part N" that is just meant to be insulting rather than make some reasonable point.

uncle ebeneezer 10-12-2011 10:18 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Seriously...why not go all-in. Progroms, ovens, crucifixions!!!

All snark aside Rob, the problem is that conservatives love to have the conversation be about "efficiency" as if there is on self-interest involved, just a dispassionate discussion of a technocratic sort with a little morality (freedom) thrown in for good measure. Then they slip and mention how they shouldn't have to pay for such and such for someone else. When their debater points out the glaring self-interest (and yes selfish nature) of such a statement, they go into full-bore martyr-mode.

There's no shame in holding views out of self-interest. I, personally, would like a healthcare system that covers everyone, including myself, if FSM-forbid I ever am in the situation of needing coverage that I cannot afford on my own. I am willing to forgo a small amount of freedom in order to chip in for a system that can provide a safety net for everyone, because it might end up being me who needs it. Or maybe someone else. Either way I view the greater good of helping to take care of my fellow American's as outweighing the slight loss of choice/freedom that may be needed to sustain such a system. Postal services are obviously a much different thing, but the principle is the same. A system where some Americans can't receive service, seems like a pretty bad one to me. I would rather contribute a miniscule amount via taxes to have a system with full and affordable mail service to all Americans. Call me crazy, anything else seems un-American.

Getting back to why some sentiments bring about harsh response from liberals: All too often, the conservative arguments against any public good (find me one that conservatives don't fantasize about privatizing: education, police, armed forces, check, check, check) are backed up by "why should I's". Sorry if those statements bring charges of "selfish" along with them. They do because they sound selfish. And it's frustrating to have alot of libertarians and conservatives (not you) routinely make such statements but take offense when anyone calls them on it.

Geoff99 10-12-2011 11:09 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Ocean, thanks for your very measured and reasonable reply. I hope I didn't offend you too much by picking out your quote as the starting point for my complaints. I was probably a little intemperate in my language. You (and the others I mentioned before) are right to point out that there are plenty of libertarians who do reflexively come up with sort of thoughtless anti-government stuff. And it would be pretty ridiculous for me to define things so that only the more reasonable libertarians are "pure" ones, and the rest are just a bunch of cavemen. But there really is a broad range of views, even the Cato institute doesn't seem to enforce that much ideological conformity. It is true that I tend to think of people like Wilkinson and Lindsey (and Welch) as more typical, probably because I see them alot and seem to agree more or less with the kinds of things they say. But maybe you're right, and the "typical" libertarian is some kind of crazed Randian; it's not like I've actually done a survey an counted numbers. I was just pointing out that many of the libertarian opinion leaders --- the ones you see here --- aren't really like that.

As far as substantive points of disagreement between liberals and libertarians, they really are things about which reasonable people can disagree without a bunch of pointless insults. (Well, except for the fact that y'all progressives stole our name.) For instance, it might not just be paranoia to worry more about the concentration of state power than corporate power --- for one thing the state has all sorts of power simply because if it's monopoly on the use of direct violence. Something that one might worry about when one hears, for example, that the president has some kind of secret star chamber in the NSA that compiles a death list of "enemies of the state" with zero accountability to anyone. And then he boasts about it like it's part of his re-election campaign...ugh!
And there are many other examples. But I really just wanted to raise the issue in the hopes getting a more civil discourse.

Incidentally, since you sort of asked, I was thinking mainly about the War on Drugs when I mentioned police-state tactics --- you know, things like SWAT teams showing up at somebody's house in the middle of the night to shoot their dog and generally terrorize them hoping to find a joint somewhere.
Although secret surveillance programs and locking people up and torturing them in Guantanomo without ever even having a trial certainly fall into that category too. All things our government is proudly doing in our name which are always worthwhile to be reminded of.

Geoff99 10-12-2011 11:30 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by uncle ebeneezer (Post 228046)
All snark aside Rob, the problem is that conservatives love to have the conversation be about "efficiency" as if there is on self-interest involved, just a dispassionate discussion of a technocratic sort with a little morality (freedom) thrown in for good measure. Then they slip and mention how they shouldn't have to pay for such and such for someone else. When their debater points out the glaring self-interest (and yes selfish nature) of such a statement, they go into full-bore martyr-mode.

Well, of course there's self-interest involved --- and that's not entirely a bad thing. An important part of the view from the right is that it likely doesn't make sense to talk about the common good without basing that on the self-interest of the particular individuals that make up the group.

I am a little surprised to hear that many conservatives or libertarians fantasize about privatizing the police and the armed forces. I'm not sure it's even true about schools, if you mean conservatives think that all schools should be private and there shouldn't be any public ones. That seems really unrealistic. Again, I'll point out that Welch, in the diavlog that set off this thread, actually explicitly mentioned that he recognized a need for public schools. So I don't think it's exactly "martyr-mode" to call attention to things like this when the over-generalizations about those on the right are staring us right in the face.

Sulla the Dictator 10-12-2011 11:46 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by miceelf (Post 227991)
I understand your concern, but it's important to highlight that those countries have much more regulation of the mail "utilities" than is usually the case here. They do this to ensure that mail remains affordable and that rural and low population areas continue to have access to the service and that workers are fairly compensated. (and if you think regulations to these effects aren't important, try getting satellite tv or reliable cell phone service in some rural parts of the country).

But once privatized, the next big push for the conservatives will be to remove the "onerous" regulations from the private company; my next prediction will be that conservatives will return to their usual stance of "who cares what BRITAIN does? this is America!!" I see your cries of "libertarianism!" in other words, and raise you a "socialism!"

Except that the safeguards of republicanism still apply. The Republican Party, being heavily rural, and in the Senate, depending on "low population areas" as a base of representation, aren't going to allow a private utility to ignore their constituents out of some religious desire to de-regulation.

There is nothing sacred about regulations, you know. They are simply one bureaucrat, or one politician's, notion of a good idea. Sometimes they are seriously analyzed for decades before implementation, but just as often they are not. Most of them have nothing to do with the air you breathe, or the water you drink. There is nothing weird about a political impulse to eliminate some of these things.

Don Zeko 10-13-2011 12:17 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by rfrobison (Post 227909)
There is no reason to believe that companies like FedEx or UPS couldn't do exactly what the USPS does, better and/or more cheaply than Uncle Sam. Heck, set the USPS free and it will do better too, I'd wager. The same could be said of Amtrak, the air-traffic control system, public broadcasting-- the list is endless. One could point to Sweden's (Sweden!) privately administered pension system as another big area where public provision could be handled better by the private sector.

Given that the fiscal shape the U.S. is in, we all need to think about exactly what the government should and shouldn't be doing in the economy. The standard answer on the left, namely, "Everything that the private sector might conceivably do less than perfectly," is no answer at all--unless you want to see the U.S. start looking like Zimbabwe.

Sometimes delivering mail is a lot to ask.

Unit 10-13-2011 01:47 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by jimM47 (Post 227984)
So, in fact, the suit example isn't a failure of the market, it is an institution that is helping to correct a market failure. That means we need to re-examine the question of whether, if the applicants all decided to buy the same cheap suit, things would still be the same. The suit competition is actually conveying information that is useful to the market, and therefore increases societal wealth. Our collective action problem is only a collective action problem if we define the relevant group in a particular and limited way. There's nothing that needs to be done by the government to stop the applicants from purchasing pricy suits, because until some better alternative comes along, they need to signal a costly pre-commitment regardless of what the government's suit policy is.

This is a good point: even if you can eliminate the monetary competition that leads people to buy expensive suits to impress an employer, it doesn't mean that new non-monetary competition wouldn't arise in its place.

Moreover, to stress the "institution" aspect you mention, one wouldn't want to risk reverting to an equilibrium (culture) where the way to get the job is to directly bribe the employer.

rfrobison 10-13-2011 02:19 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by uncle ebeneezer (Post 228046)
Seriously...why not go all-in. Progroms, ovens, crucifixions!!!

All snark aside Rob, the problem is that conservatives love to have the conversation be about "efficiency" as if there is on self-interest involved, just a dispassionate discussion of a technocratic sort with a little morality (freedom) thrown in for good measure. Then they slip and mention how they shouldn't have to pay for such and such for someone else. When their debater points out the glaring self-interest (and yes selfish nature) of such a statement, they go into full-bore martyr-mode.

There's no shame in holding views out of self-interest. I, personally, would like a healthcare system that covers everyone, including myself, if FSM-forbid I ever am in the situation of needing coverage that I cannot afford on my own. I am willing to forgo a small amount of freedom in order to chip in for a system that can provide a safety net for everyone, because it might end up being me who needs it. Or maybe someone else. Either way I view the greater good of helping to take care of my fellow American's as outweighing the slight loss of choice/freedom that may be needed to sustain such a system. Postal services are obviously a much different thing, but the principle is the same. A system where some Americans can't receive service, seems like a pretty bad one to me. I would rather contribute a miniscule amount via taxes to have a system with full and affordable mail service to all Americans. Call me crazy, anything else seems un-American.

Getting back to why some sentiments bring about harsh response from liberals: All too often, the conservative arguments against any public good (find me one that conservatives don't fantasize about privatizing: education, police, armed forces, check, check, check) are backed up by "why should I's". Sorry if those statements bring charges of "selfish" along with them. They do because they sound selfish. And it's frustrating to have alot of libertarians and conservatives (not you) routinely make such statements but take offense when anyone calls them on it.

I've already copped to excessive hyperbole (hyperbolic hyperbole?), so I think one mea culpa is enough. I'll say it once more with feeling: I don't see postal privatization as the be all and end all of a free and healthy society. As Steph pointed out, the USPS goes back a long, long way. But neither do I see a state-owned mail carrier as the ultimate marker of a civilized, modern state. The ones that I mentioned with private systems strike me as fairly genteel places. I live in one. It's a bit spartan as welfare states go, but Japan is rich and prosperous nonetheless. Its people are not, on the whole, selfish brutes. And its mail service is at least as good, and to my knowledge as universal, as that of the U.S.

Re: public goods, you'll get no argument from me, in the abstract. I'm just not sure that postal delivery rises to the level of a public good that can only ever and best be supplied by the state.

What drives me nuts is the constant caterwauling about alleged "starve the beast" plots on the right. Rhetoric notwithstanding, the #&*!! beast isn't starving, it's morbidly obese and getting obeser. I don't want to starve it, just put it on a diet. If that makes me a selfish bastard, then I guess I'll just have to live with it.

Geoff99 10-13-2011 05:01 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 228043)
Yes, as others have already pointed out.
It isn't only about principles but about how those principles are applied. Recently we had an example with Ron Paul's statements in response to Wolf in CNN regarding health care. His response to the problem of someone who had an accident, requires medical care and doesn't have health insurance is that the church should take care of him. Huh? How is that going to happen? The person is in the emergency room in some hospital, what is he suggesting that should be done? In my opinion that's where these ideas fail. They don't connect directly to reality. They only exist in the abstract. In order to work there would have to be another thousand conditions met, which, of course, are no where near to be met. I would take libertarians seriously if they proposed something that has some bearing on reality.

This is another claim that one often hears --- that libertarianism is some ivory-tower, philosophical position that has no bearing on "reality". For one thing, there is an obvious advantage to having a philosophical position that is consistent and reasoned out as opposed to one that willy-nilly encourages one to do whatever happens to suddenly seem best for the sake of some unknown-in-advance gut-level reaction at the time the decision has to be made. For another, this is a particularly tendentious example. Presumably the claim here is that the person is going to get hospital care no matter what, so we should force him to get health insurnce in advance in order to pay for it. So it's not really a "thousand conditions" that have to be met: it's really only one, that a person who chooses not to get insurance to protect himself from future actions doesn't get hospital care when his gamble doesn't pay off. Now the question is "why doesn't that 'connect directly to reality'?". The answer seems to be that it would make the rest of us uncomfortable to require that this person live with the consequences of his actions. But then isn't that a kind of moral failing on our part --- that we expect the state to use its power to make us have nice comfortable feeling about what other people are choosing to have happen to them?

I do recall that most of the discussion of this statement by Paul seemed to pretend that the question was about some poor individual who couldn't afford insurance in the first place, rather than about a relatively wealthy one who just refused to take any responsibility for himself and expected everybody else to subsidize his spending money on champagne and a nice car by buying his health insurance for him. It was quite obvious that Paul and many of the rest of us took the question as being about the latter kind of case --- that's why the first thing Paul said was "I would have advised him to get health insurance in the first place." Clearly this would have been an absurd response if the person couldn't have afforded insurance in the first place. But I suppose if your default assumption is that all libertarians are heartless extreme Randians, that might be your interpretation. (And, of course, then this very incident will likely serve as "evidence" that confirms this prejudice.)
So, given that we all agree that the optimal outcome is that the person has insurance, the question becomes how do we encourage him to get it it if he doesn't want to even though he can? One answer is to have the state coerce him into getting insurance by fines if he doesn't willingly spend his money on that. This does have the advantage of making us feel good about the fact that we have taken action to get him to do what we believe is right. And it may be more likely than any alternative means to get him to actually do it, although of course, he might be willing to take the punishment of the fine anyway. On the other hand, we could just let him suffer the consequences of his actions and make it clear in advance that we were really going to do that. This has the advantage of not needing to set up a government apparatus to keep track of what everybody is doing and levy fines on those who's actions are not approved of. It also means that those of us who are not particularly concerned about forcing this person to do the right thing can forget about it, and the individual person in question gets to feel that his autonomy was not violated. It is worth arguing about which way is better overall, but I don't see why the latter alternative is completely unrealistic: it certainly doesn't require that 1000 things have to be different. It does require that people get over their primitive desires to force everybody else to be just like them for their own mental comfort. So maybe that's a completely unrealistic goal, but it might be laudable anyway.

jimM47 10-13-2011 05:04 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by badhatharry (Post 227985)
It is my contention, erroneous though it may be, that the market does not fail. When someone says market failure I get the vision of some well-running machine that suddenly starts stalling and smoking, The way I see it the market just runs. It takes any and all inputs and then produces outcomes and gives feedback. I suppose it could be considered market failure if it didn't do these things, but can you give me an example of when it hasn't? Not that the market is easy to predict.

Market failure isn't an on-off switch that causes trade to exist or to cease; what it means is a market that deviates from the perfectly efficient, perfectly abstract generic microeconomic model. To illustrate examples of market failure, we pick extreme cases, where some feature of the market is very skewed, but the underlying characteristics of market failures are all continuous variables, not discrete variables. So another way of thinking about market failures is that all markets fail, all the time, in all of the ways a market can fail. The classic market failures, then, are models to help us understand and classify the distinctive features of individual, actually-existing, markets. And they help us categorize and understand the secondary market institutions that (need to) develop to make the markets conducted by real-world imperfect human beings behave like the markets in textbooks. That, in turn, helps us understand the way that the primary institution of the market, which moves and adapts quickly, can become mismatched with secondary market institutions, which evolve more slowly, causing perverse outcomes.

For more concrete examples, I shall simply quote myself:

Quote:

The four classic failures are: market power, asymmetric information, public goods, and externalities. Each is presented in binary terms failure or no failure but in fact they all exist on a spectrum. Every single good in every single market has some each of these qualities to some degree.
Market Power/Monopoly/Monopsony: where production is not allocated efficiently because one firm has the power to restrict the exchange of goods, so that the price will not settle where the value to the marginal seller is equal to the marginal buyers, but will settle where the firm with market power can make the most profit.

Asymmetric Information/Bounded Rationality: where one set of parties to a transaction buyers or sellers has greater capacity to assess the merits of an individual non-uniform transaction than the other, so that informed parties will systematically withdraw from transactions that will be more beneficial to the uninformed party, leading the expected benefit to the uninformed party to go down. The classic example is the market for "lemon" used cars: quality used cars are worth more than the average price, so people keep them while continuing to dump their bad ones, which further lowers the average quality of cars and thus the average price buyers will pay, rinse, repeat.

Public Goods: where a good is non-excludable and non-rivalrous, which means that everyone can use it and no one has to pay for using it, then no one has an incentive to try to put it up for sale. The classic example is a lighthouse: one ship using it doesn't stop others from using it, but you also can't selectively shut it off for the ships that don't pay. Of course, as it turns out, the market, in a larger sense, does create lighthouses without any government intervention, so this gives a preview of the limited sense of "market" we are using when we say that market failures require an additional institution to fix them.

(Property Rights) Externalities: where the practical ability of a person to use property is mismatched with the practical ability of the person to exclude others from use of the property. For example: the tragedy of the commons, where a good is rivalrous, but non-excludable like a pasture everyone is allowed to graze on or air everyone is allowed to pollute so it gets overused. There is also tragedy of the anti-commons, where a good is non-rivalrous, but excludable so it gets underused.

jimM47 10-13-2011 05:37 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Unit (Post 228067)
This is a good point: even if you can eliminate the monetary competition that leads people to buy expensive suits to impress an employer, it doesn't mean that new non-monetary competition wouldn't arise in its place. * * * Moreover, to stress the "institution" aspect you mention, one wouldn't want to risk reverting to an equilibrium (culture) where the way to get the job is to directly bribe the employer.

If an intervention destroyed or rendered less effective the hands-tying mechanism the pricy suits currently being used, I don't think the outcome would necessarily be bribery. I suspect the first response is (increased) use of the other of Kronman's primitive contracting devices: hostage-taking, collateral, and union.

* Hostage-taking (where the promisor entrusts the promisee with something valuable to the promisor but not to the promisee): e.g. an agreement that the employee not compete with the employer even (or especially) if fired.

* Collateral (where the promisor entrusts the promisee with something valuable to either of them): e.g. part of the finance employee's compensation is deferred into a later discretionary payment i.e. a scheduled bonus.

* Union (where the two merge so their incentives align): e.g. part of the employee's compensation is tied directly to the performance of the company i.e. stock options.

One thing to say about each of these is that they may, practically speaking, involve more risk of simply losing out on monetary compensation if you fail. At least with the pricy suit, if you fail you still have the suit. Additionally, a hands-tying mechanism has the advantage of not being specific to any particular transaction partner, so it is a good mechanism when you need to signal to a lot of potential transaction partners at once with minimal duplication of costs i.e if the finance job applicant is going to have to interview at a whole bunch of different firms. So, it's not at all clear to me that the proportion by which each of these mechanisms are applied is sub-optimal.

miceelf 10-13-2011 07:11 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by rfrobison (Post 228041)
Again, as a practical matter, I have no particular brief for privatizing USPS. If, in fact, they cover their costs wholly or nearly so based on user fees, then fine. The government does a lot of things reasonably well and I am familiar with the concept of natural monopolies. In such cases, public provision makes sense. I strongly suspect, however, that parcel and letter delivery does not meet that test, otherwise the private carriers would have no way to make money.

I am actually interested in the reasons why packages work and letters don't (generally) for private couriers. Although I will say when I order something on Amazon, it's about 50-50 whether they deliver it with USPS or UPS.

miceelf 10-13-2011 07:13 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Sulla the Dictator (Post 228052)
There is nothing sacred about regulations, you know. They are simply one bureaucrat, or one politician's, notion of a good idea. Sometimes they are seriously analyzed for decades before implementation, but just as often they are not. Most of them have nothing to do with the air you breathe, or the water you drink. There is nothing weird about a political impulse to eliminate some of these things.

Meh. There's nothing sacred about their removal, either.

Ocean 10-13-2011 08:51 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by miceelf (Post 228091)
I am actually interested in the reasons why packages work and letters don't (generally) for private couriers. Although I will say when I order something on Amazon, it's about 50-50 whether they deliver it with USPS or UPS.

Without knowing much about this business I would imagine that having to deliver a letter with a very low profit margin door to door may not be as profitable. Packages may give you more buck for doorbell.

miceelf 10-13-2011 09:32 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 228093)
Without knowing much about this business I would imagine that having to deliver a letter with a very low profit margin door to door may not be as profitable. Packages may give you more buck for doorbell.

My suspicion is that it doesn't cost much more to deliver a package than a letter. But given the convention of charging by weight, this means that packages have a bigger profit margin. Fedex and UPS DO deliver letters, it's just that it's so expensive that no one does it unless they need electronic tracking of it.

badhatharry 10-13-2011 09:53 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by jimM47 (Post 228086)
Market failure isn't an on-off switch that causes trade to exist or to cease; what it means is a market that deviates from the perfectly efficient, perfectly abstract generic microeconomic model.

Thanks Jim. However I still do not understand/agree with the concept of market failure because it doesn't accurately describe the situation, although I'm sure it is an oft used term. Using the idea of the weather as an analogy... the weather is what it is because of all of the forces which affect it... the ocean currents, cloud formation, air pressure, physical land features. The weather is never said to fail even when we don't particularly like what it is doing.

I certainly understand what you mean by perverse outcomes. Those are outcomes which have come about by certain actions. They tell us that this or that action does not produce the optimal result for one or more of the parties involved. But this doesn't indicate a market failure IMHO. What it tells us is that the market is functioning perfectly. It's humming along, spitting out feedback and outcomes.

PS. Is there really a perfectly efficient abstract model? What are the characteristics of that model? In whose opinion? Is there more than one abstract model depending on how one thinks the economy should be run?

ledocs 10-13-2011 11:19 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Geoff99 asked:

Quote:

Have you ever heard even one of them [sc. self-identified libertarians on bhtv] say anything remotely like "why do I have to pay for someone else's (insert here: health, education, mail, safety, roads, etc.)?" ? No.
Um, well, yes. Rfrobison says in this very discussion that he can't see why people who do not live in Alaska should subsidize the mail delivery of Alaskans. Now, perhaps he did not say this qua libertarian, I would not have called him a libertarian in general, but, interestingly, he himself appears to have regarded this particular thought as a libertarian one.

Quote:

As to your second point, and at the risk of again being accused of libertarian ogrehood (not by you) [italics added], I see no inherent reason why someone living in the wilds of Alaska shouldn't have to pay a bit more for his or her mail delivery or pickup than another someone in Manhattan, say. Nor do I think it makes sense to charge the same amount to deliver a package 10 blocks as 1,000 miles.
http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showpo...1&postcount=11

If Megan McCardle has not said this kind of thing at least five times during her many diavlogs, I would be pretty surprised. She says she's a libertarian.

If libertarians generally held the views (and only those views) that you are attributing to them, I might not be engaged in trying to reduce their exposure on bhtv.

rfrobison 10-13-2011 11:44 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ledocs (Post 228097)
Geoff99 asked:



Um, well, yes. Rfrobison says in this very discussion that he can't see why people who do not live in Alaska should subsidize the mail delivery of Alaskans. Now, perhaps he did not say this qua libertarian, I would not have called him a libertarian in general, but, interestingly, he himself appears to have regarded this particular thought as a libertarian one.



http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showpo...1&postcount=11

If Megan McCardle has not said this kind of thing at least five times during her many diavlogs, I would be pretty surprised. She says she's a libertarian.

If libertarians generally held the views (and only those views) that you are attributing to them, I might not be engaged in trying to reduce their exposure on bhtv.

I hope, Ledocs, that this doesn't mean you're trying to reduce MY exposure on Bhtv. I'm flattered, in a sense, to be put into the company of Ms. McArdle, who is, after all, the business editor for The Atlantic, whereas I, bless my poor soul, am just some dude on the Internet in Japan.

You are right in saying that I'm not a libertarian. But let me ask you this: Do you think people in sparsely populated areas have an inherent right to pay the same for mail delivery as people in urban areas? If so, why? The government doesn't subsidize the price of gasoline for people who live way out in the 'burbs. They have to pay more to drive to work, right? Is that unfair?

Living in a rural idyll has many benefits, no doubt. Generally the cost of living is lower and in many ways -- lower pollution and stress, better access to nature spots, more and cheaper living space -- they enjoy advantages that city-dwellers forgo. Is it really so unreasonable to ask people who choose to live in such places to pay more for services which, in fact, cost more to provide?

I'm sorry, but I just do not get why this is morally obtuse to raise as an issue.

badhatharry 10-13-2011 11:53 AM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Geoff99 (Post 228014)
I don't mean to pick on Ocean particularly, but this comment is sadly typical of the kind of wild bigotry that self-identified libertarians have to put up whenever they mention their political views.

Maybe you think, for example, that a bunch of know-nothing, whining mainstream Republicans like the tea party people are actually libertarians, but you are sorely mistaken .

how even handed of you!

Quote:

--- Anyway, I wondered if any or many of the self-identified liberals and/or conservatives that read the comments here have ever noticed how odd this behaviour is, or had any speculation about what the cause is.
It's because people like to bitch about others and feel that their ideas are far superior. I don't agree with you that Tea Party people are averse to libertarian ideas. I actually think that many Republicans are quite friendly to those notions and don't see any bright lines between the two, except when it comes to social issues, perhaps. Of course there are lots of different flavors of all of these ideologies.

stephanie 10-13-2011 12:12 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by miceelf (Post 228030)
1. What is the value, exactly of the monopoly on the label "first class mail"? And what would result from the removal of this monopoly?

I believe that what this refers to is that only the postal service can use customer mailboxes. There may also be other restrictions -- there traditionally have been, specifically to prevent competition and allow the goal of universal service at uniform rates at a reasonable and self-supporting cost be met.

stephanie 10-13-2011 12:23 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Geoff99 (Post 228045)
I was mainly interested in the way in which Frank seemed to just completely refuse to engage with Welch in the actual diavlog. And it really seemed to be because he had so many preconceived notions about what a libertarian wold do or say that having an actual lobirtarian there that didn't conform to all these prejudices was just something he couldn't process.

I haven't actually listened to this diavlog yet, so this may be unfair, but Welch and other self-proclaimed libertarians very often fail to engage in a similar kind of way. That is, they explain their position on an issue by "as a libertarian I..." That's not particularly interesting -- it ends up with just an exchange of political positions, rather than any discussion of the justification for the positions. I suspect this is one reason for the types of responses that you are referring to. It's also particularly irritating when done to defend rather extreme positions, like that all public schools should be abolished (see Kevin Williamson, among many) by people who are obviously quite willing to depart from such a purist libertarian view when it comes to other things (see Kevin Williamson again, including the Rick Perry cheerleading).

Quote:

I do think that what cragger and ebeneezer bring up doesn't necessarily effect my claims about what many or most libertarians think about such matters. Claims that this springs up "anytime" is really not true, although it may well be true that enough relatively extreme libertarians post on this site so that it seems to uncle ebeneezer that this is broadly typical.
What cragger and uncle eb said reflects my experience as well, but personally I'd be happy enough to address the arguments by so-called libertarians without getting into the merits of their libertarianism. (I was tempted to state, before Rob did so, that you were jumping into the middle of a discussion that wasn't really about libertarianism at all, especially since Rob clearly doesn't share your understanding of the libertarian position on foreign policy -- that is, he may or may not agree that that's the libertarian view, but it's not his, from past discussions with him. However, it is true, as ledocs said, that there did seem to be some association, even by him, with the position on the USPS with libertarian leaning views.) Anyway, getting back to the discussion of ideas without the focus on libertarianism itself, I think that does require that the person pushing the arguably libertarian ideas give some basis for his position besides "I'm a libertarian" or "government action is assumed to be bad."

Quote:

The point I was trying to make is that the default assumption about any libertarian seems to be that he or she is some kind of extremist anarchist or Randian
I don't think this is true at all.

Quote:

rather as if all liberals were immediately assumed to be Leninists that wanted to abolish private property and set up a dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is silly, because moderate libertarian leaning types do claim to be on a continuum that goes to the anarchist types and Rand. Liberalism and Leninism are not on a continuum. They are different types of philosophies.

miceelf 10-13-2011 12:44 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by rfrobison (Post 228098)
You are right in saying that I'm not a libertarian. But let me ask you this: Do you think people in sparsely populated areas have an inherent right to pay the same for mail delivery as people in urban areas? If so, why? The government doesn't subsidize the price of gasoline for people who live way out in the 'burbs. They have to pay more to drive to work, right? Is that unfair?

I think the source of the opposition to privatization in places like Canada, which has a large rural population, is less about the possibility that the service would cost more in rural canada, but the worry that it just wouldn't be available period. (getting a cell phone or satelite tv in some places- the two examples I cited- isn't expensive; it's impossible).

Agree the debate is about what the costs should be for living in the sticks, but the cost isn't usually construed as paying a dollar or whatever for first class mail, it's having to drive 50-100 miles to mail a letter.

ledocs 10-13-2011 01:15 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Rf, I wasn't stating an opinion at all about this matter, moral or otherwise. I was just pointing out to Geoff99 that you had just stated an opinion, represented it as a libertarian opinion, and it's exactly the opinion that he says does not belong to libertarians.

I don't think rural dwellers have a "moral right" in the abstract to enjoy mail service at the same cost as urban and town dwellers. But I don't think it's obvious that the subsidy is a bad thing, either. I don't think this single thing should be looked at in isolation from lots of other cost/benefit analyses to society as a whole. My understanding is that Alaska has a very good deal generally, when it comes to the federal benefits it receives and the federal taxes it generates. But a lot of the very rural states must have very good deals in this way, partly or largely because of the disproportionate power wielded by senators representing these states. It's certainly reasonable to raise the rural vs. city/town question as regards fiscal matters.

I live in rural France. My mail service, which is pretty good, is definitely being subsidized. Small rural post offices throughout France are being closed or placed upon reduced hours. There have been rumblings about privatizing the French postal service, but if that gets serious, there will be very serious interruptions in mail delivery. I just sent a check to a company in a small town in the southwest for a home improvement, and I was told that the check could not be received yesterday, because that particular post office was on strike.

My guess is that the implicit compact in France to subsidize its farmers and rural dwellers enjoys widespread support, whereas in the US the flow of funds to and from the states and the costs/benefit analysis are mostly opaque to citizens. And the rural senators enjoy a kind of stranglehold on the political system, which is one of my principle complaints about the American constitution. The framers could not, and therefore did not foresee the kind of disproportionality in representation in the senate that has come about.

stephanie 10-13-2011 01:16 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by rfrobison (Post 228098)
But let me ask you this: Do you think people in sparsely populated areas have an inherent right to pay the same for mail delivery as people in urban areas?

This is a longstanding and pretty unanimously held view in the US, which is why the more recent attacks on it are -- as a said before -- not a particularly good proxy for the debates over government vs. private. Also, of course, there's the fact that the USPS doesn't get subsidies and is supposed to be self-supporting. In arguing that people in urban areas should be able to pay the real cost and not have to subsidize the mail of those out in the boonies -- a position that I admit has some appeal in 2011 -- you aren't really standing up for the rights of tax payers or arguing for a smaller government, you are taking issue with laws that require uniform pricing. (We can talk about the Robinson-Patman Act next, maybe, although there are various exceptions under that law.)

I think it's hard to talk about the USPS without looking at the history, which includes, as I said before, a reference in the Constitution, many statements by the Founders about the importance of the post and of developing universal service, and, of course, a longstanding understanding of the requirement that we have a postal service as meaning universal service and universal service as incorporating uniform rates, even if that means (as it always has) that certain parts of the country subsidize others. This need for uniform rates and universal service and the costs of putting that in place were the reason behind the monopoly, of course -- it was quite reasonably believed that private companies would undercut the USPS in the profitable areas making it necessary to charge much higher rates and servicing basically only the more expensive to serve areas or otherwise making it impossible for the USPS to operate at a reasonable cost. Again, this is not some new or leftwing position, but the traditional one.

Now, although the mail is still used a lot for a lot of things, and quite possibly is more important in areas where it would be more expensive (if other forms of communications, including the internet, as well as FedEx and UPS, are less available), I suppose we may have reached a stage were the mail no longer plays the role that it used to, such that we can consider whether the uniform rate and similar requirements are so necessary. I do think that urban areas tend to be a lot more expensive in other ways and thus that it's not inherently unfair to allow mail to be more expensive in rural areas. It does go against our history and how we have traditionally looked at this, though, and seems to me perhaps a shame to discard the older approach here, which was based on (among other things) the idea that as a nation easy communications among all of us was important. Also, once again, the concept is that the USPS will be self-supporting, so to talk about this as if it's related to some burden on the taxpayers is just wrong.

Quote:

If so, why? The government doesn't subsidize the price of gasoline for people who live way out in the 'burbs. They have to pay more to drive to work, right? Is that unfair?
Part of the argument against higher gas taxes is that in the US lots of people have to drive long distances to work and people generally rely on food and other items which may be trucked long distances.

Anyway, I'm not especially against the idea that we can discuss what services the government should provide, but when people start by railing against the Postal Service it does suggest to me that there's something more ideological going on.

popcorn_karate 10-13-2011 06:13 PM

Re: Darwinism and Libertarianism (Matt Welch & Robert Frank)
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by badhatharry (Post 228095)
I still do not understand/agree with the concept of market failure

how 'bout magnets?


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