Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Are libertarians ready to embrace a broader notion of freedom?



(This post originally appeared at Bloomberg View.)

The way we define “east” and “west” doesn’t allow us to declare one spot of land the westernmost point on the globe. But if “west” is defined more emotionally as the idea of American freedom, then the Burning Man festival might be the uttermost west. If you don’t already know what Burning Man is, you shouldn’t rely on me to explain it to you -- just read the introduction on the website, use Google Images, or read the first few chapters of Cory Doctorow’s book "Homeland.''
This year, the media is abuzz with the news that Burning Man will be getting a very special guest: Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. At first this might seem a bit incongruous, since conservative activists don’t seem like the type who enjoy nudism, drugs, crazy art or a “giving economy.” Also, Norquist campaigned for George W. Bush, who is about as close to the antithesis of Burning Man as any American I can think of. But Norquist explains his mission thus:
There's no government that organizes this….That's what happens when nobody tells you what to do. You just figure it out. So Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.
This is a fun, exciting, cheerful collection of people being free of state control and doing stuff they want to do…. If somebody wants to sit in a corner and read Hayek, I think that that's allowed. If people want to run around with not as much clothes as they normally do, I think that's allowed as well.
Actually, as conservatives go, Norquist has always had a maverick streak -- he has advocated tax breaks for marijuana growers and called for shorter prison sentences. But he has spent the bulk of his career fighting for one thing -- lower taxes. In fact, in this respect, Norquist is emblematic of the entire modern American libertarian movement -- in principle, advocating a broad range of freedoms, but in practice focusing almost entirely on freedom from taxation and regulation.
This is a shame. There are many more kinds of freedom than the narrow set embraced by the modern libertarian movement. Burning Man is a showcase for those freedoms, which is why I am so happy that Norquist is going. In fact, I hope his odyssey can be a symbol of a larger shift in the focus of the libertarian movement.
Economic freedom is certainly an important thing, and we tend to take it for granted. Anyone who has lived under a regime of stifling regulation knows how infuriating it can be. When taxes used to fall more on the middle and lower-middle classes than now, that must also have seemed like a crushing burden. And who wants to have to get a license just to do his or her job? In general, an interventionist state strangles the small businesses that provide both economic lifeblood and social independence for much of any country’s middle class.
But there are other kinds of freedom that matter a lot for the vast majority of people -- people who don’t try to derive their ideologies from axioms, or spend time curled up with a Hayek book. For examplesocial freedom -- the ability to express your individuality without having people ostracize you -- is hugely important in most people’s lives. Norquist will see this freedom in action at Burning Man.
Nor is the state always a destroyer of human freedom. It’s liberating to be able to hop in a car and drive to another city without stopping to pay a toll every few miles. It’s also liberating to be able to hop on atrain and jaunt across a city without sitting in traffic.
For those freedoms, you need the government to intervene in the economy, and that’s going to involve a tradeoff, because taxpayers are going to have to pay for the freeways and the trains. But that’s just reality -- we’re always facing tradeoffs between different kinds of freedoms. My freedom to walk down the street naked has to be weighed against your freedom to walk down the street without seeing disturbing sights.
Sure, if you make all the right assumptions and mouth all the appropriate axioms, you can avoid having to make hard decisions -- you can just pick one tradeoff and call it “natural rights.” And many libertarians do this. But it feels arbitrary, and this may be one reason that Americans, despite their generally libertarian beliefs, have been reluctant to sign up for the movement.
So I sincerely hope that American libertarianism is experiencing a shift -- a shift away from obsessive focus on the government and economic freedoms and rigid logical systems, and toward a more expansive, intuitive definition of liberty. And to Grover Norquist, let me say: Have a good burn.

98 comments:

  1. I have never been at a Burning Man but it seems to me that Burning Man is all about spontaneous community while libertarianism is actually all about individual alienation. People like Norquist try to make a virtue out of anti-social tendencies.

    social freedom -- the ability to express your individuality without having people ostracize you -- is hugely important in most people’s lives.

    Freedom of association has to mean the right to not associate - my right to not celebrate Gay Pride and my right to avoid people whose "individuality" imposes on my sense of good manners or public safety. I should be free to ostracize (in the sense of staying away from) any freak I don't like - what I can't do is unreasonably criminalize their behavior or unreasonably discriminate against them. I have the right at almost all times and almost all places to say "get out of my face."

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    1. Sorry Absalon, but I'm not following you here. I'm a Libertarian, and I'd be the 1st to admit that much of that comes from a certain obstinate individuality - alright, I'm a tad anti-social. But I mean you no harm - and as Bryan Caplan might put it "leave me alone, and I'll be sure to extend to you the very same courtesy".

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    2. "leave me alone, and I'll be sure to extend to you the very same courtesy"

      Typical "libertarian" deceitfulness. You don't want to be "left alone" in some isolated spot somewhere away from everyone else. You want to live and work in society, but you don't want to abide by society's rules. You want to be the one who decides what those rules should be. You want to impose your belief system on everyone else. Stop lying about it.

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    3. Sean - I should have been more clear. I believe that libertarians generally suffer from alienation in the clinical sense and to a clinical degree. Libertarianism is all about trying to make a virtue out of their mental dysfunction.

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    4. MaxUtility5:08 PM

      To "ostracize" someone or a group does not mean to 'stay away from' them. It means to actively seek to exclude them from society. This generally entails directly seeking to remove their freedom to associate or not associate as they see fit. When we say that gays have been "ostracized" in our culture, we don't mean that you were forced to go to a gay pride march, we mean that serious social, economic, or physical threats were made to them if they dared to associate or make themselves visible in any way.

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    5. Anonymous12:44 AM

      Everyone shut the fuck up. Joe already knows what everyone is thinking, and their secret goals and beliefs.

      His Eye pierces air, water, earth, and flesh.

      He is all and above all, the sky god and the father of the sky god and the intelligence that begat both.

      Joe knows everything. All talk, thought, science and reason, faith and intuition, cower before the yawning, blistering, coruscating maw of infinities that is his mind.

      So, shut the fuck up.

      And let Joe tell you what you think.

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    6. To Joe:
      You said: "You don't want to be "left alone" in some isolated spot somewhere away from everyone else."
      Yeah I do.
      Then: "You want to live and work in society, but you don't want to abide by society's rules."
      I'm not sure I have much choice do I - if I break society's rules (as you mean them) I go to prison don't I? As I said before I mean others no harm, and I abide by the law (sometimes I break speed limits).
      And then: " You want to be the one who decides what those rules should be."
      Yup, I still have the vote.
      There's more: " You want to impose your belief system on everyone else. Stop lying about it."
      An imposed belief system is essentially worthless and liable to collapse. In truth as a libertarian I would reform most of the larger services and programs, rather than just cut them , but hey whatever - I'd rather live in a libertarian world than the colourless, arid, sterile lefty world where govt is 80% of the economy and you're individuality is expressed by whether you wear a che Guevara t-shirt or a chairman mao one.


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    7. "I'd rather live in a libertarian world than the colourless, arid, sterile lefty world where govt is 80% of the economy and you're individuality is expressed by whether you wear a che Guevara t-shirt or a chairman mao one."

      You are aware that there are more than these two options?

      Why are 'libertarians' such simple-minded black-and-white morons?

      Oh and please fuck off to your isolated wilderness and leave us all alone, thanks.

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    8. Hey now let's not needlessly disparage wilderness areas.

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    9. Hey Joe chill - we all want the same things right. Maybe not, I don't know but seriously - it's your world not mine, I just live in it. 20 years time - government will be larger than it is today as %age of GDP - no question. Esp. healthcare and welfare. It's all good for you guys. As NS put it the war has been won - who cares what some libertarian thinks. We definitely isn't gettin' our hands on the levers of power.
      Mark my words - 20 years - govt spending higher as a %age of GDP healthcare, welfare, definitely, public sector pay and pensions, much, much higher. Taxes, regulation, deficits, debt, etc all up.
      If I were you I'd be cracking open the champagne already - what are you waiting for?

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    10. As a pathologically introverted person, I've always thought that liberalism (or even full-on democratic socialism) would suit my needs far more than libertarianism. Except in the above example of going out into the wilderness, which is obviously impractical, to take care of yourself inevitably requires quite a lot of social interaction. If you want to make a living, you have to deal with bosses, or if you're self employed, suppliers and customers who will have various expectations of you. Often, people have to "network" just to find jobs in the first place. Market relationships at their ideal are emotionless detached relationships of goods in exchange for currency, but that is not how the labor market works, and it's hard to blame government for that. And if you depend on charity, things are even worse. People who make friends and are connected with society are at more of an advantage than people who keep to themselves.

      But in a "colorless sterile world where government controls 80% of the economy," (and I'd agree with Joe that that's a stupid extreme to jump to) there's no need for all that uncomfortable intimacy. The government just provides the services, and all you have to do is maybe fill out some paperwork. Obviously such a world would be problematic in other ways, but the idea that it inherently crushes the individual just seems to misunderstand what being an individual is all about.

      The problem with rugged individualism is that many people are not rugged in the slightest. True individualism needs to let wimps be individualistic too.

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  2. I used to naively think that libertarianism was about sex and drugs. It was years before I learned it was about not paying taxes that might go to poor people. So I join you in rejoicing.

    As an aside, the (generally very free) US does seem to go in for licencing/restricting jobs that the (generally less free) UK has not even thought of licencing eg interior decorator, barber, hair dresser, taxi driver and fishing guide (the ones I know about). Odd

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    1. "Might" is partly the point - if I was a gazillionaire libertarian, I would feel that for many charities that money actually will go to the poor - whereas with the Govt not so much. Here in Britain we have 000's of homeless and a £500 billion public sector - maybe my taxes don't go to the poor.

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    2. "maybe my taxes don't go to the poor"

      But you'd hate it if they did anyway.

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    3. Anonymous12:21 PM

      That's because in the U.S., interior decorators and such have gotten good at lobbying the government to restrict competition.

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    4. Why do you say the UK is generally less free?

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  3. Anonymous3:38 PM

    Except that Burning Man actually does have rules and regulations:

    http://survival.burningman.com/rules-regulations/

    That doesn't diminish your point, Noah, that it is an extreme example of social freedom, but it does diminish Grover's point that it is anything like an example of what happens with no rules or regulations. No rules, laws, or regulations looks more like Mad Max than Burning Man.

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    1. Honestly, I don't think us Libertarians actually say no Laws, etc. Grovers point is - surely - that we don't need govt in order to form societies and communities.
      We believe in private property rights and such laws as may be required to prevent others from infringing them.

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    2. Sean:

      Hoping for property rights in the absence of at least a minimal government is wishful thinking. Therefore, if property rights are to be a meaningful component of "societies and communities," those communities must have governments.

      In other words, without governments, your community is Deadwood. Some people are ok with that; most aren't.

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    3. "Honestly, I don't think us Libertarians actually say no Laws, etc"

      No, of course you don't. What you want is for your laws to be imposed on everyone else.

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    4. Sean said: "... we don't need govt in order to form societies and communities.

      We believe in private property rights and such laws as may be required to prevent others from infringing them."

      The history of the real world that we actually live suggests we do, indeed, need government to form & organize societies & communities. In fact, the function of forming & organizing societies & communities seems to me to be the very definition of government. It was ever thus.

      And libertarians tend to elevate private property rights as THE paramount human right, in the process standing the very idea of inalienable human rights on its head and subordinating all other rights. Libertarianism (at least Nozick's version) is anathema to democratic principles.

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    5. Fair enough. But do we - your NFL was reorganised along entirely communist lines - arguably one of the most successful and lasting examples of how collectivism can work. Not a government official as far as the eye can see.
      Libertarians do hold private property rights in high regard - because everything follows from them, and they are senior to all others.

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    6. "and they are senior to all others"

      Only in a very sick mind.

      Please don't impose your sickness on us, thanks.

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    7. cesium6211:02 PM

      "your NFL was reorganised along entirely communist lines - arguably one of the most successful and lasting examples of how collectivism can work. Not a government official as far as the eye can see"

      You have an oddly restrictive definition of "government". The NFL commissioner is a government official in NFL society.

      A couple of examples of how government arises don't seem to be covered by your private property rights. Government historically have arisen to negotiate water rights. Water being a form of private property that doesn't stay put in one place very well if you live on any kind of slope. Governments also play a role whenever there is a commons to be shared: the air, fisheries, cow pastures, etc.... An agreement by a community that ensures a commons is used in a sustainable fashion is government.

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    8. Fair points. But how much does the NFL commissioner and organisation cost the teams - and who's accountable to whom - but I'm nitpicking a bit, you make a good point.
      Fair comment about commons property rights - they too are real, valid and legitimate as you say. Hey, if the government spends it's time on managing the commons and co-ordinating housing policy, transport policy, energy policy, and agricultural policy, then sign me up!

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  4. Damien4:00 PM

    Is this not how the meaning of 'liberal' shifted? When people became dissatisfied with the sole focus on state power that characterized classical liberalism (laissez faire, laissez passer), and started embraced a broader notion of freedom?

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    1. You mean social liberalism? Well as NS put it in an earlier blog post - much of that has been achieved - do you think? Or is there more to be done?

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  5. Grorver Norqist is right about the need for lower taxes and more smart immigration. It's unfortunate some republicans are aligning with the left in wanting labor protectionism and opposing globalization.

    Taxes are too high for the most productive people. Rise taxes for the top 5% under the condition that earned income tax credit is rescinded.

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    1. IMHO seems to have gone missing.

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    2. By the way - does anyway know if "Grey Enlightenment" is satire - it is hard to tell.

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    3. cesium6211:08 PM

      Wowza. We've been lowering taxes on the "most productive" people for what, 30...40 years now? Can't say as how I'm seeing that it's making things better.

      How did the "most productive" people become the "most productive"? Did they inherit that wealth and thus deserve not to be taxed on that inherited wealth? or did they perhaps take advantage of a society of well educated people with good transportation systems? Do you think that the "most productive" people will continue to be that productive if they pay no taxes to educate their workers or to build roads to move their goods?

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    4. I agree with Cs62 that education and infrastructure are 2 of the most important functions of govt.. Roads, etc are classic public goods and would be under-supplied by a private market. Education provides most of it's benefits to the individual themselves (consider the increasing returns to education as a prime driver of inequality), but overall unlike a lot of libertarians I think that there is a public good component to education. Think of it as a countries R&D budget.
      But still - I don't draw the same conclusions.
      1st off - I reckon most inheritees are net consumers of wealth than creators of new - but I could be wrong.
      "Take advantage of" - this statement assumes a priori that there is no consumer or labour surplus to what a rich person does. I mean silicon valley folks are rich because we like their...stuff. I couldn't do any of what they do at all. So I'm certainly better off and I'm not sure if I really care what a doctor earns (the largest constituency of the 1%) and what advantages they had so long as they be doing good healthcare.
      Not everyone in Bill Gates class is a billionaire.
      If all of this wealth creation stuff is so obvious and just appropriated by monopolists then why doesn't the govt just produce all of the istuff, and angioplasty suites, and fast food, and whatever, years before some dumb luck businessman stumbles across it.
      Does the public sector work for free - no they get 8% more than the private sector - not including dem pension plans!
      If I get a crap education, there are potholes in the road, I don't get the medical care I need, and I get mugged , do I or my parents get a refund on all the taxes paid?
      PS - I suppose I do sort of care what a Dr. earns - depends what's wrong with me or my kids.

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  6. Only government services can provide true freedom.

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    1. OK, I'm gonna have to think about this one - can you expand a bit?

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    2. It's a more expansive view of liberty. Freedom from disturbing sights, freedom from want, freedom from too many choices, freedom from personal responsibility, freedom from risk, etc.

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  7. Its a good article I think and NS makes some excellent points - but have a couple of gripes.
    I don't get how people think that us Libertarians have a problem with : "the ability to express your individuality without having people ostracize you".
    Also, I have to say here in the UK they built the M6 toll road - and all I can say is it's nice sometimes to be able to pay a toll and not have to sit in traffic!
    Libertarians want to see reform in education, welfare, and healthcare, much, much more than in roads and railways, and infrastructure.

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    1. "Also, I have to say here in the UK they built the M6 toll road - and all I can say is it's nice sometimes to be able to pay a toll and not have to sit in traffic!"

      So I read this and read "It is nice to be rich and privileged". This is nothing to do with "freedom" as such.

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    2. Yes and no. Price setting like toll lanes and congestion charges are still the most effective means of distributing scarce resources usually.

      However, your point is right that that is true and only true given equal endowment.

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    3. "your point is right that that is true and only true given equal endowment"

      So in other words it's never true.

      "I don't get how people think that us Libertarians have a problem with : "the ability to express your individuality without having people ostracize you"

      Read Hans Hermann Hoppe, for starters.

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  8. I've been trying to engage with glibertarians ever since the Internet came online and was hopeful that there could be some sort of left-right synthesis over privacy rights and the surveillance state; the drug war, gay marriage, etc. but have come to believe it's a fruitless endeavor. Watch Rand Paul recoil from the immigrant in the recent video with King. Watch him back the Republican line over Israel and Gaza.

    Since 2008 there's been a huge loss of liberty, but no second thoughts from the glibertarians, who are just a minority faction of the conservative coalition, just as the market monetarists are.

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    1. Given the way you throw around the term glibertarian, I have to doubt the sincerity of this alleged outreach of yours.

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    2. Mozza6:24 AM

      Isn't the word 'glibertarian' so wonderfully ironic?

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  9. "t’s also liberating to be able to hop on atrain and jaunt across a city without sitting in traffic."

    So is spending your mornings by the pool rather than having to go to work. How does that make a case for government intervention?

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    1. Let's see... Could it be that one enhances productivity and reduces waste along several vectors (energy, time, physical space, etc)?

      Nah, can't be. George Will said trains were for moochers. Or maybe it was Grey Enlightenment...

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    2. You completely missed the point! I did not argue that subsidizing trains is wrong. It may or may not be, we can discuss that. Railroad unions certainly believe we should, I wonder why. The point is that Noah's justification for doing so, that he enjoys riding the train rather than sitting in traffic, is silly; and as an economist he should know better.

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    3. Roads and highways are some of the most pernicious government interventions and implicit subsidies ever. Why is it silly to think the ridiculous subsidies coupled with the dead weight loss of sitting in traffic is a justification for changing transportation priorities?

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    4. Roads have characteristics that make them very close to being public goods (for a definition see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good). Trains do not!

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  10. jeez Noah, you don't need teh Gubmint to get trains. unless you mean that only teh Gubmint will run trains that lose money each and every year.

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    1. Never heard of eminent domain? Even if the government doesn't run the trains, you still need a government before you can build train lines.

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  11. The most important right is the one that allows us to express ourselves by jacking off in public. But it would have to be regulated. Imagine if you were walking down the street, minding your own business when all of a sudden somebody ejaculated on you? Our we permissive enough as a society to allow this? What if you were pushing your kid in a baby carriage and the ejaculate sprayed onto kid? How would that make you feel?

    I think libertarians bring up some real issues and make the vast majority if us into prudes.

    But hey, to each his own. Don't regulate anything. Your just distorting the market.

    Actually I'm being facetious here. Distort had a bad connotation and so its used by libertarians to besmirch regulation, laws and government. Social mores and the encoding there of are malleable and society will continue shape it into what it into what it pleases. Don't listen to Libertarians. They're cry babies who don't like where the line is drawn so they attack, disingenuously, the very idea of drawing lines. Show me a libertarian who supports the right to ejaculate in public, even if it spills on children playing in the park and I'll show a libertarian with the courage of his/her conviction.

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    1. Mozza7:01 AM

      Why would you imagine liberals (the word libertarian is unnecessary) would support the right to ejaculate on others (or punch or piss or spit on them)?

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    2. I consider myself a classical liberal politically and don't find much of the rhetoric coming from libertarians helpful or in line with my beliefs.

      It isn't that we disagree as much as have priorities completely different.

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    3. I have no problem with public ejaculation as long as I can shoot them back with a .45.

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    4. @Dan Nile

      Shoot 'em up. Its your right.

      @Mozza

      Nobody ejaculated on you. You got sprayed because you were in place at the wrong time.

      @Unknown

      The word is salient. You can't understand politics if you don't understand this word.

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  12. For Noah,

    Please stop embracing conservatives - they do not change and they always distort the reality. Here is an example of a mountain climber I know: he wants to be rescued if his climb runs into difficulty, of course, by the govt. On the second breath, he wants govt out of the lives so that he can pay less taxes etc. etc.

    I would like to see govt that stops taxing my time on this Earth. That mean faster commute; reliable food and water supply; safe place to live and play... Or, a responsive govt and unfortunately for Norquist, it costs money to do all that. There are only two options for govt to get money - tax or print.

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  13. http://aswathdamodaran.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-insanity-of-us-tax-code-bad-laws.html

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  15. One question, isn't Black Rock Desert where the festival is held a national park?

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  16. "And who wants to have to get a license just to do his or her job?"

    Plenty of people actually. You should revisit the Akerlof theory.

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  17. Anonymous4:45 AM

    So, Grover Norquist intends to travel on government owned and maintained roads to attend an event hosted by a corporation with a government issued charter (Black Rock City LLC), taking place on government (BLM) owned land, under the conditions of a government issued permit (SRP NVW 03500-13-01), so he can celebrate a government free lifestyle. Yep. Sounds like a libertarian to me.

    https://www.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/nepa/36777/43974/47325/Burning_Man_2013_SRP_Decision_without_attachments.pdf

    http://www.burningman.com/media/doc/pdf/blm_stipulations/2013_blm_stipulations.pdf

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    1. Anonymous5:36 PM

      The notion of building a modern road infrastructure without a powerful collective force (e.g. Government) is a little fanciful - though a Libertarian could legitimately argue that tolls, rather than taxation, could pay for it.. thus bringing participation back into voluntary hands.

      But that aside, the other things you mention are areas where government has inserted itself into things that could happily exist without. Governments own land because they control the systems of ownership, permits are issued by Government because Government requires permits. A National Park isn't there because Government made it, it's there because Government decreed it. Of course, Government also protects it (from the tragedy of the commons) so I don't mean to suggest that we get no value from all of this.

      But you seem to mock the idea of being free of Government just because the signs of Government are all around. But if there were no permits, no LLC's, no Government designation of a place as a park, and even no Government-built roads.. there could still be Burning Man.

      People on a Libertarian spectrum just have different views about which of those Government interventions are necessary, and, where they are, who should pay for them.

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    2. The point with the National Park, is that a community (with permission) could use it because it isn't private property. The chances of it being made available when it was in private hands are much more remote. And the idea of their being a public space at all, without a government to reserve it is also fanciful. You are forgetting that we did this in the middle ages (Feudal lords are really just a sort of private landholder), and they set up toll gates everywhere so travelling any distance by land was a nightmare.

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    3. Anonymous1:15 PM

      Why are the chances of private land being used remote? Here in the UK we have plenty of festivals held on private land. You've heard of Glastonbury, right?

      In this context, Government does not provide 'unique' value by granting access. It does, however, provide value by preserving the space. If it were privately owned then it could be broken up in a manner that precluded an event like Burning Man taking place. Again, I cite 'the tragedy of the commons'.

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    4. Changed platforms, I'm Anon of the "sounds like a libertarian" post up there.

      With less mocking but no less incredulity, I point out the following:

      1) There is lots of privately owned desert (and even more non-desert) open space in this country. The organizers of Burning Man choose to work with the government rather than a private land owner, presumably because doing so is easier and cheaper. If all the land were private, this easier/cheaper alternative would not exist. That seems like a loss.

      2) None of the Norquist quote in the OP was actually, you know, true.
      CLAIM: There's no government that organizes this….
      RESPONSE: Several layers and agencies of government, including the federal land owner and state law enforcement are deeply involved in the organization of the event through their permit review and condition authority.

      CLAIM: That's what happens when nobody tells you what to do. You just figure it out.
      RESPONSE: Burning Man is not a law-free zone, nor a regulation-free zone. Lots and lots of people are "telling you what to do" during the event. All laws which would govern Norquist's actions outside Burning Man still apply. An additional set are added because the event is on federally owned land. Yet another set of regulations apply under the federal permit for the event. Still further (private) restrictions are added by contract with the organizers in exchange for the attendance ticket If Norquist finds the result of all of these layers of law and regulation to be to his liking, the correct conclusion is "My happiness is compatible with broad areas of government control. If I am unhappy elsewhere, the problem must be something other than the government."

      CLAIM: So Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.
      RESPONSE: A desirable event taking place "in nature" on government owned land and subject to government permits may not support but certainly does not refute the argument that government has a place in nature.

      CLAIM: This is a fun, exciting, cheerful collection of people being free of state control and doing stuff they want to do….
      RESPONSE: In fact, it is a fun, exciting, cheerful collection of people, acting under considerable state control, and doing stuff they want to do. There is nothing at all surprising or inconsistent with that state of affairs. In fact, many regulations enhance freedom on balance. For example, I would note that several conditions of the federal permit for Burning Man relate to the proper handling of human waste. Some attendees may prefer to "do what they want to do" in this regard, but the government controls assure that most attendees are free to "step where they want to step." On balance, I think it is clear that freedom is enhanced.

      CLAIM: If somebody wants to sit in a corner and read Hayek, I think that that's allowed. If people want to run around with not as much clothes as they normally do, I think that's allowed as well.
      RESPONSE: Those freedoms are available at Burning Man even under the full force and effect of federal and state law and regulation. Therefore, the law and regulation aren't the problem elsewhere. If he is rousted from his Hayek reading leisure, it a lot more likely that a private landowner is restricting his freedom than a public one. (Granted some exceptions for Hayek-exclusion zones in secure areas of military bases.) Similarly, if he likes the idea of walking around pants-less, Burning Man is a fine demonstration that it isn't the feds or state that are forcing him into unwanted denim. Depending on his degree of commitment this particular freedom, his complaint is either with his local jurisdiction or, more likely, with the informal effects of social disapproval. He may not like the fact that showing up to a Club for Growth meeting in a G-string and boa would have a negative effect on his year-ahead earnings potential, but he is unlikely to be arrested for doing so.

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    5. "the tragedy of the commons" isn't the threat that national parks (and other lands) are protected from. It's from private ownership, development and exploitation.

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  18. Propertarians hate freedom. They like private tyrannies.

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    1. absolutely correct.

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    2. Freedom is slavery, comrade!

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    3. propertarianism (so-called 'libertarianism') isn't freedom, idiot.

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    4. Tell it to John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and other founders of liberalism, who regarded private property as essential to liberty. Liberalism has the stem word 'liberty' in it, though this has largely been forgotten in the modern usage of the term.

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    5. they weren't 'libertarians' or propertarians or anarcho-capitalists.

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  19. My best friend was a very strong libertarian growing up. He even went to events run by Norquist and held him very high esteem. He voted for the libertarian candidate in 2000 primary and election.

    5 or so years ago he followed his (crazy) girlfriend to Germany where she was working on a PhD. 3 years later his visa was up and he came back completely different politically.

    When I asked him what changed his simple statement was, "Nothing makes you appreciate government like the glory of European public transportation."

    I'm sure he would say that those 3 years in Germany were the freeest of his life and Americans underate the freedom enhancing qualities of certain public goods.

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  20. Before your time, Noah, but as late as the mid-70's, libertarianism wasn't focused on taxes and so-called 'property rights'. And the people who called themselves libertarians back in the day seemed to be a little more, um, philosophical. Certainly they were much better and more widely educated than your standard specimen today.

    That changed sometime in the late 70's when the movement was co-opted by the anti-tax crowd. It's easy to be co-opted when the old guard undergoes a complete rotation anywhere from four to eight years, IOW, the amount of time the typical student spends in a college environment.

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    1. the term 'libertarian' originally meant someone who was opposed to all coercive institutions and authority. As such, libertarians were especially opposed to capitalism and the institution of private property.

      At some point in the 50s extreme right-wing propertarians started calling themselves 'libertarians', and since then the original meaning of the word has been progressively obscured.

      The extreme right-wing propertarian nutcases who patrol the internet these days spouting their deceitful and hate-filled gospel are not 'libertarians', they're just liars.

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    2. Back in the day, the issue du jour for campus libertarians was the draft. I guess drift was inevitable. Who comandeered the movement to ride which hobby horse wasn't, at least IMHO. Or maybe it was just the Boomer Dukes. You know, the people who smoked dope and opposed the draft because it was cool and then went on to work in Daddy's firm.

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  21. Unanimous11:55 AM

    Markets and freedom are government regulations.

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    1. no... markets are political and economic virtualities2:44 PM

      government don't make regulations...that is a corporation asset...the regulation book ..it's in the bible....thou....etc etc

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  22. Anonymous1:02 PM

    Libertarians like taxes, so long as they are paid by someone else and are used to fund a military to secure the rights to "their" property.

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    1. NO, the economic model thrives in debt in debt we trust boom and bust cycles2:41 PM

      and for half a millenia is a good and sound system except between the boom's

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    2. Anonymous2:49 PM

      I dont speak idiot, can anyone translate this nonsense?

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  23. Anonymous2:46 PM

    "Are libertarians ready to embrace a broader notion of freedom?"

    Nope!

    That was easy.

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  24. The thing that's really annoying about the constant throwing around of the words "liberty," "freedon," and "free markets" is that they have such arbitrary meanings anyways. The words can have completely different meanings to different people, even among libertarians.

    The movement is hopeless, me thinks.

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  25. Noah: "When taxes used to fall more on the middle and lower-middle classes than now, that must also have seemed like a crushing burden. "

    Last I heard, the effective tax rates *do* fall more on the middle and lower-middle classes. The rich may pay more than a few decades ago (don't know), but that'd only be because they have a far higher percentage of the money.

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  26. The government is an imperfect reflection of democracy. Libertarians have the freedom to convince others to change any aspect of government. That covers just about everything. Any complaints?

    P.S. John Galt ain't taking you.

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  27. What is peculiar about libertarians is that they do not seem to appreciate that the essence of a market economy is cooperation, on a vast scale. That means we are all incredibly dependent on one another. Electing and funding governments is just another form of cooperation. If they ant to be consistent they have to oppose both governments and the market economy. They should support a movement towards self-sufficiency where we all grow our own food and make our own clothes.

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    1. Anonymous1:15 PM

      Huh!?! I mean, just HUH!?! Show me one , so just to be clear that's one(1) example from a libertarian in which they state that they don't want co-operation, and that they clearly don't understand the role of co-operation in markets. Even thinking lefties will admit that their pet policies do somewhat restrict this co-operation in many cases in order to achieve a more desirable final outcome. I
      Oh, and it's lefties/environmentalists who would move us toward that self-sufficiency.
      Remember, I said one.

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    2. 1. I'm a libertarian and I don't want co-operation.

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    3. ... I think everything should be privately owned, and my goal is to own all of it. Then if jack-booted lazy, cowardly collectivist thugs breathe *MY* air or drink *MY* water or stand on *MY* land, float on *MY* water or violate *MY* airspace without my permission (and there's NO WAY IN HELL I'll ever give *MY* permission), thus initiating savage, brutal, collectivist violence against me, I will be fully justified in defending myself from this barbaric and inhuman statist abuse of my rights and property by launching a full scale thermonuclear strike against the evil, hate filled, oppressor collectivists (who clearly HATE my freedom and liberty) thus ridding the Earth of worthless, lazy collectivist central planner scum once and for all.

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    4. I can't tell if this is an awesome toll of libertarianism or you honestly believe this.

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    5. Anonymous6:03 PM

      is this what Libertarians read for porn?

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    6. cesium6211:35 PM

      Anton: Well stated.

      Anonymous: Libertarians consistently state that they want lower taxes and less government. However, cooperation is government. So libertarians are consistently stating that they want less cooperation. If two people make an agreement, that's government. It doesn't somehow magically become government only when 30 million or more people are involved.

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    7. @Maximum Liberty,

      Must be nice to chug a nice big fat glass of straw man every morning. Must be nice to keep patting yourself on the back with these cute missives you've managed to invent in this little echo chamber.

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    8. Anonymous3:59 PM

      Cs62 - not sure that I follow this - are you saying that no co-operation can take place between people without government? If 2 people do a deal with each other do they need government to oversee the deal or something? Or are you saying that social norms and conventions act so as to ensure fairness and that's the same as the govt?

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  28. Noah, do you have a link for that block quotation you put in from Norquist? (I believe that he wrote it, I just need the link if you have it.)

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  29. Anonymous1:39 PM

    The problem with Libertarians is their political color blindness. It is all black and white.
    Complete market freedom or Stalinist Russia. There is nothing in between for them.
    Either you sell your soul to Mammon, or you hate freedom.

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    Replies
    1. Not true. Maybe a small handful of the more fringe and hyperbolic ones struggle with that level of complexity, but I'm confident the vast majority completely understand there are almost infinite points along the "spectrum."

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  30. "...the ability to express your individuality without having people ostracize you "

    This is something that libertarians get right. In this case, it's Noah who falls into simplistic adolescent fantasy, while the libertarians provide the more sophisticated, mature reasoning.

    The state should not be the sole arbiter of morality. As a result, because libertarians are so far beyond Noah in their reasoning, then libertarians understand that people are social creatures.

    And as such, people have to option to shame and ostracize to enforce social norms. People also have the right to self-select into different social groups with different norms and standards. This is civil society, and it's how a free society maintains it's moralities. And the proliferation of social groups and competing norms also yields more freedom for the individual, who can join a social group that appeals to them more, or simply have more space to maintain their individuality.

    Noah seems to recognize none of this, which puts Noah far behind the libertarians in sophistication and depth. But with enough time and effort, I think Noah can eventually catch up.

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    1. Except it doesn't work. Read a bit of history. What you are talking about is called "tribalism". The movement towards a more tolerant society required a good deal of political activity and legal intervention.

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