Tag: libertarianism

SandelTV on Libertarianism

An episode of Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel’s fantastic television series Justice takes up libertarian political philosophy.  Now, up front: this series is a minor miracle and, if this were a classical philosophy thought experiment, I’d trade all my cherished original comic pages to see this show supplant Dancing with the Stars in the Zeitgeist. Sandel gives as reasonably sympathetic a summary of the libertarian view of rights as anyone could expect in the time he’s got.  But you also end up watching long stretches and thinking: Yes, great, an A-list Harvard philosopher can smack around undergraduates with inchoate libertarian instincts; good for him. Even this spectacularly thoughtful forum is not really capable of giving the competing ideas under discussion a suitably thorough airing.  This is not—God forbid—another tedious kvetch about either media or academic bias, as Sandel is clearly trying to give a philosophy with which he’s out of sympathy equal time.  But it does suggest a reason to open-source the conversation.  Anyone want to take up particular points on YouTube?  Ping me on Twitter as @normative; at my obnoxious sole discretion, I’ll circulate the strong ones.

Talkin’ Libertarianism

In response to a question today, I found a C-SPAN appearance from 2006 on their website. Host Steve Scully was teaching a class on “Issues in Media and Public Policy” with students at the Cable Center’s Distance Learning Studio in Denver. He asked me to join him for a discussion of libertarianism and public policy. For about an hour and 20 minutes I answered questions posed by both Scully and the students. Video of the event can be found on C-SPAN’s website.

Libertarianism in China

I am delighted to report that Libertarianism: A Primer has been published in Chinese. Let’s hope for sales in the tens of millions! The good folks at the Atlas Global Initiative posted an interview with me about the book, with subtitles in Chinese. (In my experience, it plays more smoothly if you turn the HD button off. But then, there’s nothing really new in the interview for American viewers.)

Thanks to the good folks at www.guominliyi.org and www.ipencil.org for making this book possible. The support of the project by a Chinese entrepreneur shows not only the growth of the Chinese economy, but one of the additional benefits of economic growth: diverse sources of wealth, with different people making different investments and encouraging diverse ideas.

Libertarianism: A Primer has also been published in Russian, Japanese, Spanish, Czech, Polish, Serbian, Bulgarian, Cambodian, Mongolian, Kurdish, and Persian. Translations into Arabic, Portuguese, and Italian are underway. And of course you can get it in audio form. Not Kindle yet, but feel free to tell them you’d like a Kindle edition.

Emergency Aid to Seniors? No Way

Social Security benefits are indexed for inflation, but because inflation has been roughly zero for the past year, the adjustment formula implies no increase in benefits this year. Nevertheless,

President Obama on Wednesday attempted to preempt the announcement that Social Security recipients will not get an increase in their benefit checks for the first time in three decades, encouraging Congress to provide a one-time payment of $250 to help seniors and disabled Americans weather the recession.

Obama endorsed the idea, which is expected to cost at least $13 billion, as the administration gropes for ways to sustain an apparent economic rebound without the kind of massive spending package that critics could label a second stimulus act.

This is outrageous on four levels:

1. If the president thinks the economy needs more stimulus, he should say that explicitly and have an honest debate.

2. This is the wrong kind of stimulus. Any further stimulus should consist of reductions in marginal tax rates, such as a cut in the corporate income tax (or better yet, repeal).

3. All Social Security recipients already have a moderate guaranteed income, and many have significant income beyond their Social Security benefits. This kind of transfer has no plausible justification as redistribution for the needy.

4. Sending checks to seniors is a blatant attempt to buy their support for Obamacare, which promises to cut Medicare spending substantially.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

Libertarianism on TV

I talked with Dennis McCuistion, whose interview program appears on KERA in Dallas and other public television stations, about “libertarianism and the politics of freedom.” It’s an old-fashioned public affairs program, where the host asks intelligent questions for half an hour. No shouting, no four-minute segments, a good solid conversation. Find the video here. Other McCuistion programs with such guests as Dan Mitchell, Steve Moore, and Steve Forbes can be found here.

Hurting the Sick Is Not Good Politics

I was glad to see James Pinkerton engage my criticism of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) endorsement of federal price controls for health insurance.  I was even more pleased to see that Pinkerton has his own blog devoted to developing a Serious Medicine Strategy.

If I understand Pinkerton, his argument is essentially: it’s all well and good for some unelectable wonk in the “citadel of libertarian thinking” to “uphold ivory-tower free-market purity” by opposing price controls.  But Republicans need “art-of-the-possible solutions” to win elections, and 90 percent of the public support those price controls.  “Everyone has a right to his or her principled position,” Pinkerton writes, “but the majority has rights, too.”

Two problems.

First, Pinkerton suggests that libertarians oppose price controls for reasons that only matter to libertarians, and therefore may be safely ignored.  Problem is, price controls hurt people.  Were Pinkerton to explore the merits of Jindal’s proposal, he would soon conclude that imposing price controls on health insurance taxes the healthy, reduces everyone’s health insurance choices, and creates even greater incentives for insurers to shortchange the sick.  (Turns out that what Larry Summers said about price controls applies to health insurance, too.)  As John Cochrane explains, those price controls also block innovative products that would provide more financial security and better medical care to the sick.

But Pinkerton’s advice for Republicans is, essentially: “Do what’s popular now, even if it hurts people and voters end up blaming Republicans for it later.”  How is that a good strategy?

Second is this idea that “the majority has rights.”  Majorities don’t have rights.  Individuals have rights.  For example, you have the right to negotiate the terms of your health insurance contract with the individuals at this or that insurance company.  Majorities may attain power, but that’s the opposite of rights.  (See the Bill of Rights.)

Finally, a couple of important odds and ends.  Pinkerton suggests it is “un-libertarian” to be “pro-life,” or to “support the police, the military, and other upholders of public order,” or to “support government restrictions on…euthanasia.”  Writing from the “citadel of libertarian thinking,” I can assure him he is wrong.  Might I suggest Pinkerton read the relevant chapters from The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism?  (The health care chapter is a page-turner!)  Also, I did not “denounce Jindal” any more than Pinkerton denounced me.  I criticized his ideas, and I respect the man.

(Cross-posted at Politico’s Health Care Arena.)

Michael Moore’s Billionaire Backers

I wrote in Libertarianism: A Primer, “One difference between libertarianism and socialism is that a socialist society can’t tolerate groups of people practicing freedom, but a libertarian society can comfortably allow people to choose voluntary socialism.” (In the final section, “Toward a Framework for Utopia.”)

Now Ira Stoll notes the irony that it was very successful capitalists who put up the money that allowed Michael Moore to make his anti-market screed Capitalism: A Love Story:

The funniest moments of all in the movie, though, may just be in the opening and closing credits. We see that the movie is presented by “Paramount Vantage” in association with the Weinstein Company. Bob and Harvey Weinstein are listed as executive producers. If Mr. Moore appreciates any of the irony here he sure doesn’t share it with viewers, but for those members of the audience who are in on the secret it’s all kind of amusing. Paramount Vantage, after all, is controlled by Viacom, on whose board sit none other than Sumner Redstone and former Bear Stearns executive Ace Greenberg, who aren’t exactly socialists. The Weinstein Company announced it was funded with a $490 million private placement in which Goldman Sachs advised. The press release announcing the deal quoted a Goldman spokesman saying, “We are very pleased to be a part of this exciting new venture and look forward to an ongoing relationship with The Weinstein Company.”

So maybe I should add a corollary to my claim:

One difference between libertarianism and socialism is that a socialist society won’t put up the money for people to make libertarian movies, but in a capitalist/libertarian society the capitalists are happy to put up the money for anti-capitalist movies.

And if you doubt that a socialist society would discriminate against anti-socialist movies, you can either observe socialism in practice — in Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, East Germany, etc. — or read the chilling words of bestselling economist Robert Heilbroner in Dissent:

Socialism…must depend for its economic direction on some form of planning, and for its culture on some form of commitment to the idea of a morally conscious collectivity…

If tradition cannot, and the market system should not, underpin the socialist order, we are left with some form of command as the necessary means for securing its continuance and adaptation. Indeed, that is what planning means…

The factories and stores and farms and shops of a socialist socioeconomic formation must be coordinated…and this coordination must entail obedience to a central plan…

The rights of individuals to their Millian liberties [are] directly opposed to the basic social commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal… Under socialism, every dissenting voice raises a threat similar to that raised under a democracy by those who preach antidemocracy.