Re: poly: Re: libertarianism

From: Perry E. Metzger <>
Date: Tue Feb 17 1998 - 09:24:05 PST

d.brin writes:
> Regarding Perry's line-by-line deconstruction of my earlier comments about
> libertarian idealism, I could not have seen a better example of exactly
> what I meant by Platonism... not Plato's hatred of liberty, but his belief
> that talk talk talk is what matters. Excuse me. I look at results.

Hey, you presented a vacuous series of phrases, utterly devoid of any
concrete content other than a propagandistic slant designed to
emotionally engage the reader against your target. If anyone was doing
the "talk talk talk" thing it was you.

We all remember good ol' Karl Popper, right? Well, he claimed that if
you want to apply the scientific method to a proposition, it must be
falsifyable. Lots of what you were saying consisted of sentences with
no falsifyable contents. There is no way to prove or disprove or even
rationally discuss most of the comments you made.

I'm happy to discuss politics, but I want to do it the intelligent
way. I want to stick to both sides making clearly phrased propositions
about how they feel humans should conduct their affairs and about what
they feel the effect of that conduct would be. The other participants
can then attempt to support or attack those concrete ideas.

If all you want to do is put out a smog of words -- a series of
innuendos without any contents -- well, that isn't a discussion mode I
care to engage in. I hear that in the speeches of the congressmen on
my radio, and frankly there is a reason why I don't care to listen
closely to them much any more -- they aren't saying anything, and at
great length.

> Perry, you were raised by the only civilization in history whose principal
> propaganda message is suspicion of authority... resulting in the only
> culture aswarm with huge masses of libertarians and their fellow
> travellers. (Like you and me and nearly everybody else on this list.) A
> gentle, decent civilization that clothed, educated, protected and suckled
> you, and never considered punishing you for the resentment you express
> toward it. Any other would have burned you and me at the stake for our big
> mouths. I call THAT a withering away of the old state... a withering
> that's far more meaningful than any raw measure of numbers of bureaucrats.

Sure, but take a step back for a second. We essentially had gotten to
that stage TWO HUNDRED years ago. Sure there were defects, like
slavery, but for the most part the state was as small as it was going
to get back then. President Washington had something like four
employees on his staff, instead of the mobs that currently staff the
White House. There were a handful of cabinet departments.

In the centuries since, that government has been growing like
kudzu. It is not "withering away". Freedom of speech is virtually the
only thing that has done even moderately well, and we *still* live in
a nation where a kid was recently arrested for wearing an "obscene"
T-shirt in Florida and where you can have a trial over showing Robert
Mapplethorpe photographs.

> In fact, you are SO good at it, that I'm just not going to get into a
> toe-to toe libertarian slug fest with you. I can point out that Al Gore's
> reinventing government campaign has reduced the federal workforce by
> 250,000... and you'll find some excuse to call it a trick.

Show me the figures. Show me total federal payroll (excluding
Military) from before Mr. Gore took office, and total federal payroll
today. The numbers are on the web. I think you might find they don't
correspond to what you think they do.

> I can point out that non-entitlement federal spending has shrunk,

Has it now?

I just went and checked the figures. Both entitlements and
non-entitlement spending are monotonic increasing series. I invite you
to go and check the numbers for yourself.

Now, mind you, I will admit that the planners have "cut" the PROJECTED
budgets on several occassions. That means that they said "we will
spend $30 billion this year and $35 next year" and then they decide to
spend only $34 billion the following year and that is a "cut" in
Washingtonese, rather than a $4 billion increase as it would be in
anyone else's book. However, you will be hard pressed to find *actual*
reductions in federal spending on any level.

> and you'll call it meaningless.

Not meaningless. False. There is a difference.

> I can point to the fundamental reconfiguring of Democratic Party
> ideology toward free market values,

I can't measure said "reconfiguration" and thus I'm not sure I have
much of a reason to care. I can measure budgets. Frankly, by the way,
I find no distinction of significance between the "Republican" and
"Democratic" parties -- even their names are designed to make it
difficult to figure out what it is that they stand for.

> Welfare reform is meaningless.

I don't know if it is meaningless or not, but my taxes don't seem to
have gone down, no.

> The reduction in secrecy is nada.

I still seem to find it impossible to export cryptographic software
from the U.S. now that you mention it, and I hear talk in the congress
of attempting to ban the use of cryptography domestically.

> The unleashing of special prosecutors to investigate presidential
> penile blemishes has no implications about reducing the potential
> for conspiratorial coups.

I'm not sure this is a *bad* thing, but I'm not sure it is an
important thing, either. I don't care who the President has sex
with. I do care about who he fucks. Recently, his staffer Ira
Magaziner personally fucked over the work I and a bunch of other
people did for a couple of years trying to privatize the management of
the internet's DNS, as one example. Such non-consentual fucking
continues unabated.

You seem to have bought the propaganda about employment and budget
cuts, without checking for blue smoke and mirrors.

I will admit that it is possible (possible, mind you -- it is
difficult to check thanks to federal accounting practices) that some
large number of jobs have been eliminated, but certainly far more jobs
have been created elsewhere. It does not appear that there has been an
overall reduction in the number of civilians employed by the
U.S. Government. (Note that I most certainly DO count pseudocompanies,
"independant" agencies, etc. as parts of the government -- shifting
employees back and forth between "agencies" and fake nonprofit
companies that are 100% controlled by the government is *not* a
reduction in staff.)

Similarly, it is possible that the government is spending less than
they had wanted to, but it does not appear that to any significant
extent the government is actually spending less. Sure, the deficit has
fallen, but that is largely due to a booming economy bringing a
windfall of taxes.

> There is not a single known case of a strong, capable democratic
> government, that was owned and fiercely kept accountable by a
> confident citizenry, ever turning despotic.

There are a dozen forms of definitionalism in there. What does
"despotic" mean, for instance? Were the internment camps we put
Japanese-Americans into an act of "despotism", for instance? Is
throwing kids into jail for smoking pot "despotism"? Is throwing
people in jail for buying cancer patients pot "despotism"?

All depends on what you want to define the thing as. Very hard to
argue against a vague comment like that.

Yeah, sure, maybe the U.S. Government doesn't go out and shoot anyone
directly these days. (The fate of the Black Panthers and many others
leads me to put a "maybe" on that, but never mind.) On the other hand,
it *does* ruin lives, day after day. Take Peter Gatien, the New York
club owner put through hell for years on charges that amounted to --
get this -- he'd conspired to make it easy to let people ingest
prohibited molecular structures at his nightclubs. He was acquitted,
thank goodness, but why was this a "crime" to begin with? Or take a
friend of mine who's life was ruined by the SEC for essentially doing
nothing more than making a mistake. Or the millions of people who
can't send their kids to college because it was important to tax them
and send that money to maintain marble palaces in Washington...

> In fact, our present institutions are just about the only tools that
> any human society ever found that enabled a free people to prevent
> the inevitable aristo-oligarchy that took over almost every other
> culture...

Again, this is a very vague sort of assertion. I mean, what is an
aristo-oligarchy, exactly? Is Cokie Roberts a member? Is Ted Kennedy?
How about the Andreases (the ruling family of the Archer Daniels
Midland company, which subsists entirely on Federal subsidies.)

> INCLUDING your beloved Iceland. (The Althing was a cliquish
> gathering of landowners, not very different from the Venetian
> Senate.)

Dunno. From what I can tell, the Althing didn't resemble the Venetian
Senate very much -- it seems to have resembled an annual fair a lot
more. Probably came from the fact that it didn't really do much.

> In fact, I share the Marxist-Libertarian goal of a withering away of the
> state.

A fascinating hyphen, there.

Myself, I don't want to make the state wither. I wish to drive a stake
through its heart, cut off its head, stuff the mouth with garlic and
throw it into a river before it comes back to life. Waiting for the
state to wither is like waiting for Kudzu to wither.

> I foresee that withering away happening in the only way that
> makes sense... when every child in the world has had enough protein and
> education and freedom from abuse to grow up straight and tall -- just like
> you, Perry -- and can decide for herself or himself that he or she WANTS
> the state to wither away!

Well, you see, from what we can tell, most of the deprivation the
world's children suffer from happens as a result of state
interference. Therefore, you have presented a self-fulfilling prophecy
-- we shall never dismantle the state, because the children shall
always be hungry, because we shall always have the state.

Children get fed *in spite of* the governments of the world. Do you
think that kids in African kleptocracies are just suffering because of
some vague "poverty" illness that sweeps down like influenza, or might
it have more to do with the local potentates ruling the nations into
the ground?

Even here in the U.S., we have a government that spends much of its
money busily raising the price of food. Everything from peanut butter
to milk to wheat would plummet in price if the government got out of
the way -- but then, of course, we might not need the government to
provide food stamps.

My education was provided by money earned by my parents and by me --
not by the government. Even government funded education is really
funded with money taken by force from taxpayers, so perhaps the
distinction is not so important. Far more important, however, is the
fact that had I gone to the government schools, I wouldn't have been
educated. This is not for want of funding -- the schools I went to
spent far less per student (NYC public high schools are up to
something like $10k per student per year!) and paid teachers far
less. Somehow, though, they worked better. If anything, kids are being
educated IN SPITE OF the government.

If you are waiting for the day when the governments of the world
assure all kids will have enough to eat and will be well educated, you
are waiting for Godot.

> Obviously, when that condition is met, the state will shrink, because
> that's what anybody in their right mind will want!


Might I direct you to the work of James Buchannan on "Public Choice
Economics"? It seems that you have been making an intriguing implicit
assumption -- that bureaucrats aren't people. If you assume, on the
other hand, that they *are* people, suddenly you might discover that
they have rather perverse incentives -- and that, being human, they
often take these incentives.

> Thus, as long as health and education levels keep rising, along with
> internet access and continuing anti-authority propaganda, you WILL win,
> Perry... whether or not your exact political agenda is followed! When
> people are ready for the explicit social contract, they'll demand it.

We demanded it 200 years ago. We got it. We made a mistake, however --
we assumed that Government was not an invention of the criminal
classes but instead a legitimate adjunct to law and order. The result
was that instead of killing the vampire, we thought we could have it
work *for* us. Little did we realize what that implied.

> So far, in historical terms, we seem to be well on our way toward that
> condition. Part of this is being achieved by freemarket wealth-creation,
> and part has absolutely undeniably been a result of state-mediated goodies
> like sewers, clean water supplies, vaccination campaigns, child labor laws,
> GI Bills, assaults on racism, and universal free public education

Well, lets see:

You can get universal education. It sucks, however. It sucks
BADLY. Kids in NYC public schools (the ones I'm familiar with) run a
gauntlet of violence, attend classes in buildings heated with coal
shoveled into a furnace by a guy in the basement (no joke -- there
still are twelve schools heated that way), deal with bathrooms cleaned
on alternate leap years, are taught by teachers with tenure and no
incentive to give a damn, and all at a price far higher than the
"private" education system manages. No wonder we are exhorted to spend
even more money on education, eh?

"Assaults on racism" by the federal government have lead to the
perverse situation in which asians are systematically excluded from
universities because they are overqualified. (Shades of the old Jewish
quotas, eh?)

"Vaccination campaigns" lead the government to spend money on what is
very obviously a private and not a public good -- if I am vaccinated,
I am personally protected, never mind what the public good side
effects might be.

Sewers and roads are successfully built by private companies -- I
leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why someone might
want to pay money to get clean water, waste disposal, and
transportation services.

"GI Bills" seem to have started as a way to ameliorate the crime of
enslaving people and forcing them to fight as soldiers. Now it has
evolved into a system of perquisites for government employed troops.

> >>I also must say that I have yet
> >>to hear of an instance of a state disappearing of its own accord --
> >>according to the Public Choice economics folks, the opposite trend is
> >>far more natural. Call me a skeptic, but I'd like to see evidence for
> >>your assertion there.
> Oh, I agree, that human nature trends toward conspiratorial accumulations
> of power! That is why I am so much in awe of this civilization... the one
> you hold in such contempt... even though it's the only one that could have
> possibly produced cantankerous curmugeons like you and me!

I don't "hold it in contempt". I simply don't worship its
government. I note that it is, for the most part, distinguished by the
fact that we still maintain some small checks on its power sufficient
to keep it from choking on its own waste products.

The thing you most admire about our government seems to be that it
tolerates people like us. Well, frankly, our government doesn't
tolerate us -- our constitution keeps the government from doing what
it would otherwise more naturally do.

Have you heard of COINTELPRO? The Red Squads? The myriad of government
agents who have struggled, year after year, to be permitted to
encroach more on individual freedom?

The fact that things work as well as they do is a tribute to what our
government is PREVENTED from doing, not to what our government DOES.

> >It is a caricature of my position to say that I advocate the modeling
> >of modern society on that of Medieval Iceland. I was merely noting
> >that stateless societies have existed, and have been fairly stable.
> There was authority in those cultures. Tribal, capricious, with life and
> death decisions made by local 'farmers' (read landowning petty lords) whose
> qualification for such power over their thralls was blood inheritance,
> never mitigated by due process or accountability. Don't get me wrong. I
> respect that Iceland was better than average. But give me the nitpicking
> complexity of modern law. Please.

I'd go into the mistakes you've made there, but I won't.

You hold up Athens as an example, right? Well, as I've pointed out,
Athens was a society in which the bulk of the populace were slaves or
other sorts of chattels, in which women had no voice at all, and in
which every once in a while the locals voted on who to exile because
they didn't like 'em.

> Let's drop this. Enjoy having your cake and eating it. Flourishing
> in a renaissance, while despising the culture that brought about a thing as
> wonderful as you.

I have no trouble with the CULTURE. I like my culture. I have trouble
with my GOVERNMENT. The two are not synonymous. The government in
question has *NOT* made my life better.

"It lets you say whatever you like!" you say. "No," I note, "it is
restrained from interfering with what I would say -- and I will not
thank it for what it would not naturally do but for eternal
vigilance." "It educated you! It fed you!" "No," I note, "I was
educated *in spite of* my Government and largely at private
expense. My food was grown privately, and is, if anything, costlier
because of the government -- I would be paying far less for it but for
government intervention."

Received on Tue Feb 17 18:12:22 1998

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