Posted tagged ‘glibertarianism’

Yes, I do know that Sully is a waste of time, but…

December 23, 2011

…it’s almost wreck-on-the-highway fascinating to watch his Ron Paul fixation play out.*

[Blogger’s note: I’m posting in even greater haste than usual, as the holidays impose (enable) family time…(yippee, actually).  So apologies in advance for typos, grotesquely elongated sentences, convoluted language, and flabbiness or outright outrages of thought.  In other words, as always, what follows is worth precisely what you’re paying for it.  Chappy Cholidays, all.]

Here’s the latest from today’s blogorrhea:

You need to take all of this into consideration, when assessing a candidate. It seems clear to me that Paul has associated with people with some vile views, and profited from it. At best, that is reckless negligence. At worst, it is a blind eye to real ugliness. Neither interpretation flatters Paul.

So, according to Sullivan, “at worst” Paul is guilty of a “blind eye to real ugliness.”  Uh, no. At worst, he advocates the oppression of millions of Americans, and the absolute priority of the right of the dominant group to continue to do so in the name of “liberty.”

Against that, you have to weigh his character as it has revealed itself over three presidential campaigns, his opponents (whose extremism and bigotry do not need to be ferreted out),

No.  You have to weigh his character over the course of his entire career.  I understand why Andrew wants to narrow our focus here, given his determination to defend his political crush on such a catastrophic object, but to most of us it comes as no shock that one might behave and speak differently when addressing a national audience, especially one composed of those touching naifs, boys and men who never made it past their Heinlein phases, than one does when the cameras are off and the crowd is much more in the “nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat” inner circle.

…and his argument: that domestic liberty requires a drastic re-callibration of our military-industrial complex and an end to the drug war.

And yes, what a lovely thought, and one with which I am in some sympathy.  But when weighing candidates, may I make the gentle suggestion that one pay attention not just to the grand music of their message, but the likely outcomes of what they might do when they get into power.  And hence bigotry, and an economic outlook we have plenty of hard evidence to suggest will beggar the nation and the world probably should weigh in your thinking too.  Sullivan may be too innumerate to grasp the hideous dangers of goldbuggery (though a moment’s pause to recall his hero, Winston Churchill’s entanglement with the gold standard ought to give him some pause).

Or he may simply, again, be so deeply in the hole on his Paul bet that he feels no choice but to double down.  In either case, this is a rigged argument, and I’d wager that Sullivan is a dishonest enough writer to know it.  The measure of Paul’s candidacy is not whether or not we get to blow dope on his watch; it is whether we will survive the damage and division a Paul administration would leave behind it.

Voting is not some kind of purist abstraction. Every candidate is flawed. The moment and the argument matter. Viewing it all together, I would not have a problem supporting Paul if I were caucusing in Iowa. And I think a victory will help enormously in reorienting the GOP away from its dangerous foreign policy belligerence.

Charitably, you can read this as a tactical argument. Sully would support Paul in Iowa, but (perhaps) not elsewhere, to shock the GOP into its senses.  If so, it seems to me that this is surpassingly obtuse, even for a writer who continually argues that actual political actors who call themselves conservatives  aren’t really “conservative” because their actions do not conform to Sullivan’s immaculate conceptions.  Paul could, and may very well win Iowa.  Does anyone with the cognitive abilities of a radish** really think that such a victory will cause the Romney or the not-Romney juggernaut to swerve an iota?  And if you read this without thumbing the scale, then you have to ask yourself if “supporting” Paul means assenting to the whole package.  And if it does, see above.

As a broader thought:  grandiloquent phrases like “the moment and the argument matter” are the shoddy coin of a bad argument.  If Paul’s virtues do not outlast the moment, then their value inside it is, to put it most kindly, suspect.

One final thing: libertarianism, because it is about allowing people to do things, is easily conflated with the things it allows people to do. In that sense, it is always vulnerable to being regarded as indifferent to injustice – not because it is inherently indifferent to injustice (although it may often, in practice, be), but because it puts freedom first.

This is the point at which I felt the Harvard Government Department started to investigate the procedure for calling in its degrees.  If libertarianism as Sullivan understands it (and here, apparently, subscribes to) regards the right to discriminate against African-Americans as an element of “freedom” that cannot be compromised by any consideration of, say, the freedom of African-Americans to do as they would, then, yes, it will and properly should be conflated with that which it allows people to do.  In fact, classical liberalism recognizes the fact of society, which means that there are constraints on an individuals rights that pinch at the point where the exercise of those rights impinges on those of others with whom one rubs shoulders.  The parody of liberalism that modern libertarianism enacts fails at exactly this point.  Sullivan here enters that parody, by asserting that there are these perfectly isolated and opposed concepts of Freedom and Justice.

Much of the left and a great deal of the right has no interest in putting liberty before justice. But I do not believe that that philosophical position renders one a bigot.

And, Mr. Sullivan, you are, in the particular case you are arguing, wrong.  You cannot have liberty without justice.  There.  I said it.

Bluntly, if you do not have, say, equal treatment before the law, then those sacrificed for others’ liberty invalidate the concept for all involved.  I’m going to blog about one of the most eloquent statements I’ve ever heard of this view in a day or two, but I think the basic principle is obvious — and it is grasped by anyone who gets the idea that the exercise of my property rights to dump sewage into my stretch of river does injustice, and is illiberal, by the time it reaches your run of the water.  This really isn’t hard.

Enough.  Sullivan is not, or has ceased to be, anything like a thinker.  This is just reflex, and a child’s approach to argument.  Liberty good! Justice inconvenient!  It would be merely sad, if this author weren’t so widely read.  Over time, however, this kind of nonsense may remedy that unfortunate circumstance.

*Or rather his quite Cheney-esque commitment to never, ever, admitting he might be wrong here.

**With a holiday tip of the hat to that great man, Peter Medawar.

Image:  El Greco, Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, 1570-1576

Megan McArdle is Always Wrong…Health Insurance Reform/Great Depression edition

June 7, 2010

I’m trying (and failing – ed.) to learn how to go all Daniel Goldin on my blogging stylz these days (you know, “faster, better, cheaper” and all that), so let’s see if I can keep this latest bit of outrage at Megan McArdle’s willed incompetence short and to the point.

In this post she considers a broad claim…

I’ve been pretty skeptical of the Amity Shlaes argument that regulatory uncertainty was the major culprit in prolonging the Great Depression…

And then rejects her doubts…

Over time, however, in talking to banks and business people, I’ve become more convinced that it’s at least a minor problem…

In support of a conclusion that should make you go hmmm.

About that, more in a moment.  To slice and dice — of McArdle’s first statement,  she shoulda stood in bed.

The historical record is pretty clear (a) that Shlaes is a dishonest and incorrigible hack and the (b) the signal policy that slowed recovery from the great depression in this country (leave aside the global nature of the beast), was the decision to switch from stimulus measures to premature attempts to balance the budget in 1937.  (Something you can see graphically here, with a nice additional slam at Schlaes.)

On her second claim: this is the kind of reporting that has given Ms. McArdle so much of her notoriety to this point…in that, of course, whatever this post represents, it ain’t journalism.

There are certainly actual attempts to study regulation, and that subset of the field, the issue  of uncertainty in regulatory regimes.  If you’re interested in the subject, it takes very little time to find dozens of interesting threads to pull — I’ve just been reading this one on the paradox of prudential regulation [pdf] (i.e., because the cost of regulation is obvious and individual perceived but the benefits from successful regulatory systems are broadly dispersed and individual, it becomes hard to sustain support for such systems).*

But that’s not what McArdle has done here.  There isn’t even a shred of an attempt to suggest that she actually has mustered some real data here.  Instead, she’s talked to some folks she knows and they have told her they don’t like regulation.  They especially don’t like it if they sense that they might not be effectively in charge of the regulatory agencies that purport to govern their industries — which is how I translate “uncertainty” in this instance.

So, to this point, here’s the state of play:

McArdle invokes an often debunked partisan writer to suggest that one of her routinely disproved claims might actually be true. She says this seems to be so because we should trust her when she tells us that her unidentified sources in an industry that has just disastrously failed have told her so.

But never mind, because all this is preliminary to this stirring confirmation that regulatory uncertainty right now is causing businesses to shutter.   Her evidence?  This:

And this seems like a pretty clear cut case of death by regulation:  startup health insurer forced to shut down because of uncertainty surrounding health care reform.  According to the insurer, at least, they neither have the capital to handle the new requirements, nor have any prospect of raising it from the markets, where they’ve already tried and failed to get more investment.

She’s not even trying.

It’s almost not worth the effort to sneer at this.  McArdle’s link is to an article in a local Virginia business journal that, as McArdle indicates quotes the insurer to account for why that insurer is leaving business.  This isn’t journalism, this is stenography.

The whole story boils down to a complaint that an unspecified insurance model established two years ago (hence, in the last administration) may not in the future meet requirements specified by the new health insurance law, and that this is the reason this small insurer has been unable to raise capital.

There are two things to note here, beyond the simple sloth and meaninglessness of taking a failed businessman’s account of why the enterprise went bottom up at  face value.

One is that McArdle is playing a very slippery game here.  Remember:  she began by specifically calling out regulatory uncertainty, all the bad stuff that happens when a new administration starts changing things.  But this company is complaining not simply about lack of knowledge, but of the substance of the change itself:

“…the uncertainties in the regulatory climate coupled with new demands imposed by national healthcare reforms have made it challenging to sustain the level of sales required to remain viable over the long run.” (from James Slabaugh , executive vice president of nHealth.)

New demands, eh?  I’ll leave the reader to judge whether it is the fact that the new health care rules include provisions like prohibiting revocations of policies (rescission), or the like, or whether it is unspecified “uncertainty” that weighs more heavily here.

And while McArdle is careful to fudge just a bit — she refers to “new requirements” after all — she is really trying to have it both or maybe three ways.  Regulatory uncertainty is bad; regulation is bad; and the health care reform is bad…and because she knows these truths to be self evident, she needs do no actual reporting or research to prove her case or identify the specific root causes of the one actual business failure she tries to adduce as proof for these articles of faith.

This isn’t even a parody of journalism.  As I said above:  she’s not even trying with this stuff.

And one last thing, my second point:  it remains amazing to me how gutless and pathetic the glibertarian crowd becomes in the face of actual capitalism.

This insurance company had an approach (unspecified in the linked article) to providing insurance.  It’s approach did not survive a change of administrations, a change in the landscape of health care delivery and payment, the competition within the insurance market itself, and/or the problems that are face  undercapitalized companies at any moment — and especially in a period of disruption in the financial markets.

The company and its owners/managers made bets on certain expectations about the future.  Those bets didn’t pay off.  They go out of business.  I’ve run my own small business and I don’t wish that outcome on anyone…but it is a fact of life in the marketplace: some folks don’t grab the gold ring.


Try again.

I’m a screaming liberal, social-safety-net, environmentalist, birkenstock-wearing**, Berkeley, California born and raised, Kremlin-on-the-Charles educated, Massachusetts-pointy-headed-university type, yellow-dog Democrat, and I got no problem with that.  What’s McArdle’s excuse?


* It’s relevant here because it suggests just how McArdle’s sources may have in fact connived in the regulatory relaxation that permitted the reckless behaviors that lay behind the recent near-collapse of the financial system.

**Actually, I’ve never owned or even tried on a pair of Birkenstocks.  They look ugly and uncomfortable to me … but you got to ride with the stereotype that brung ya.

Image:  Wilhelm Maria Hubertus Leibl, “The Newspaper Reader,” 1881.