26 September 2011

News and Notes

Mister Gary finally made an appearance. I was pleased. Still the only political figure I've considered voting FOR in a very long time. Ron Paul is fun, but has more of a "I'd rather vote against the other guy than for him" feel to him. Probably the pragmatic libertarian speaking.

 This popped up.


Now, I appreciate the simplicity of the argument. It runs parallel to a lot of very simple conservative base ploys and will obviously generate a lot of support within the progressive/liberal base. But I've seen this come up every time a liberal talks to a libertarian or anyone else favoring "limited governments". It's a softball for us by now.

First, a note. Supporting government interventions into public goods like law and order, private property protection, education, public health, and basic infrastructure, doesn't make somebody a socialist. And even Warren is no socialist. Sorry, Rush. Saying it doesn't make it so. I can see the difference between Marx and Obama just as clearly as I can see the difference between Friedman and Rockwell.

That said, supporting all those things does not imply that opposing higher tax rates on, say, factory owners makes someone into an anarchist. There are anarcho-capitalists (and anarchists generally), who oppose public interventions of any kind. But for the most part these are "nutters and cranks" that are ignored in polite politics. The Tea Party, for all its vigorous word salad protests, is hardly composed of the very small number of people who don't want the government to exist. It is composed of a much larger number of people who do want government to exist. They just have a particular version of government programmes they want to exist (namely the "conservative" ones, plus social security and medicare). This is not, unfortunately for me, a broader philosophical preference to an even further diminished state of government footprints. Because of this, supposing that it is in fact that preference, and further that it is in fact a preference for no government at all, is to argue a straw man. But it is important to argue what it is that government does. Because most of those idiots screaming about Medicare cuts clearly don't know what it is is that government does.

Most of those things can be argued over the proper amount of funding required, or the proper amount of interventions needed. Whether schools and roads for instance can or should have public funding involved is a settled question in economics because of free rider and positive externality problems. Whether they could also have private ownership, control, administration, etc is not. Whether schools or police should receive more funding, or implement particular new programmes is also not a settled debate. There are numerous laws for which enforcement (or certainly current enforcement strategies) can be demonstrated to be a waste of public resources (most vice laws, drug laws, etc). Likewise, there are numerous schools for which public attendance and continued administration can be demonstrated to be a similar problem. A proper debate would include whether more or less funding than we currently do for these things is appropriate. It would not start from the conclusion that some public funding is appropriate and work backwards to the assertion that we must not have enough.

Defending some public interventions does not likewise mean that all public interventions are thereby virtuous and good. That there are a lot of people out there that cheer when the department of education gets a notch on the execution block of proposed cuts is kind of noteworthy. I'm concerned that most of them want it gone so they can institute local controls rather than market controls of course, but I at least share an aversion to as much federalised control and funding as we have at present. There are public interventions that we can do without. Back when "we need more regulation" was a mantra, I often responded "we need smarter regulation". We could probably do just fine with a lot less regulation. A lot. Less.

Liberals to let them die too!

Undiscussed in the haste to declare all libertarians heartless bastards in the "let them die" debate was the whole "death panel" business of liberal health care plans. Now. I have no desire to declare something like health care efficacy on a cost-benefit analysis to be a "death panel". But it's perfectly reasonable to look at the numbers and decide that some treatments are (probably) not going to be worth it for long term care or for terminal care of the aged and very sick. If we are paying as much as we are in public dollars for health care, then it is likewise perfectly reasonable to say that we shouldn't spend that money unwisely on treatments that won't add much useful life to the patients, if any. And then perfectly humane from there to ask individuals to make this assessment privately in the company of their doctors and loved ones and write up living wills to make these decisions in a modestly informed capacity themselves rather than use the cold calculations of the state to impose only palliative care upon the masses of dying and infirm in a time of desperation. Or to allow people to pay of their own dollars (or insurance dollars) to permit such care rather than use the architecture of the state to pay. But the basic point is the same. If people don't wish to use their own resources to pay for extensive medical care, then it can be acceptable to "let them die". At least if they have substantive excess resources to use for that purpose. It would not be sensible for instance for us to expend all their private resources against their will for the purpose of extending their life.

Finally. All hail the robot overlords!

I await the price tag to fall. But we're finally getting rid of the pesky humans and the wasted time driving. Or most of us owning cars.
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