“What ought to be”


It’s easy to confuse ‘what is’ with ‘what ought to be,’ especially when ‘what is’ has worked out in your favor.

– Tyrion Lannister, “The Dance of Dragons,” Games of Thrones season 5, episode 9

© HBO / via examiner.co.uk

© HBO / via examiner.co.uk (click image for source)


Here’s the Thing About Building a Utopia…

The word literally means “no place,” so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising when a purported utopia—especially one built on an ideology that views selfishness as a virtue—turns out not to be one at all.


What I’m Reading, September 22, 2014

The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the “free market”, CJ Werleman, Salon, September 14, 2014

Robert Reich says that one of the most deceptive ideas embraced by the Ayn Rand-inspired libertarian movement is that the free market is natural, and exists outside and beyond government. In other words, the “free market” is a constructed supernatural myth.

There is much to cover here, but a jumping-off point is the fact that corporations are a government construct, and that fact alone refutes any case for economic libertarianism. Corporations, which are designed to protect shareholders insofar as mitigating risk beyond the amount of their investment, are created and maintained only via government action. “Statutes, passed by the government, allow for the creation of corporations, and anyone wishing to form one must fill out the necessary government paperwork and utilize the apparatus of the state in numerous ways. Thus, the corporate entity is by definition a government-created obstruction to the free marketplace, so the entire concept should be appalling to libertarians,” says David Niose, an atheist and legal director of the American Humanist Association.


Reich says rules that define the playing field of today’s capitalism don’t exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don’t “intrude” on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them. “In reality, the ‘free market’ is a bunch of rules about 1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); 2) on what terms (equal access to the Internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); 3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?); 4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); 5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.”


That awkward pause that inevitably follows asking a libertarian how it is that unrestricted corporate power, particularly for Big Oil, helps solve our existential crisis, climate change, is always enjoyable. “Corporations will harm you, or even kill you, if it is profitable to do so and they can get away with it … recall the infamous case of the Ford Pinto, where in the 1970s the automaker did a cost-benefit analysis and decided not to remedy a defective gas tank design because doing so would be more expensive than simply allowing the inevitable deaths and injuries to occur and then paying the anticipated settlements,” warns Niose.

Spanking is a euphemism. For assault. Chocolate, Pomp, and Circumstance, Medium, September 17, 2014 Continue reading


Whither Regulations?

I frequently see rants from people about this government regulation or that. Many of them seem entirely reasonable or justified, because a great many regulations are annoying as crap on a day-to-day basis.

By Felix Andrews (Floybix) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Free market water! (This is in China, not Ohio, but my point stands.)

One thing I see far, far less frequently than invective against certain regulations, however, is inquiry into why those particular regulations exist. I know a few things about how laws and regulations come to be, and while it is a seriously messy process, it generally doesn’t happen completely out of the blue or for purely arbitrary reasons. I’ll just let Paul Krugman take it from here, in large part since he has at least one more Nobel Prize than me:

In the latest Times Magazine, Robert Draper profiled youngish libertarians — roughly speaking, people who combine free-market economics with permissive social views — and asked whether we might be heading for a “libertarian moment.” Well, probably not. Polling suggests that young Americans tend, if anything, to be more supportive of the case for a bigger government than their elders. But I’d like to ask a different question: Is libertarian economics at all realistic?

The answer is no. And the reason can be summed up in one word: phosphorus. Continue reading


The Monopoly on Violence

I asked this question on Twitter yesterday. Still no answer, but I’ll just put it out to the whole world here. Any libertarian-minded folk want to take a crack at it?


The Libertarian Cat

I’d not heard of Secret before, but it apparently contains this bit of “political wisdom” (via Doug Henwood):

In case the image doesn’t embed with the tweet, here is a link to the Secret post, and here’s the image.


What I’m Reading, May 8, 2014

By Ralph Chaplin [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsRepublicans are Trying to Mix the Ideologies of Jesus Christ with an Atheist and That Doesn’t Make Any Sense, Allen Clifton, Forward Progressives, April 14, 2014

It’s amazing to me how few conservatives know who Ayn Rand is. Especially considering that she’s quite possibly the most influential person behind most of the Republican party’s economic ideologies.

She was a person who spoke out against social programs, believed that people should only worry about themselves, opposed big government and worshiped at the “glory” that is unregulated capitalism. In other words, she’s the epitome of what most Republicans support economically.


There’s just one problem – Ayn Rand was an atheist. Not that there’s any problem at all with being an atheist (more power to you) but there is a big problem with a political party that builds its social platform on “Christian” values while basing its economic ideology on that of someone who didn’t believe in God.

How Piketty’s Bombshell Book Blows Up Libertarian Fantasies, Lynn Parramore, Moyers & Company, April 30, 2014 Continue reading


What I’m Reading, April 7, 2014

Too stupid to insultScientifically Illiterate Congressmen Are Resigning the World to Ruin, Brian Merchant, Vice, April 3, 2014

That is the right word; buffoon. These men are not necessarily or wholly unintelligent. They can be charming, or funny, and are often good at writing speeches. They have no lack of talent. But each is, as Merriam-Webster’s instructs us, “a ludicrous figure.” They are “gross and usually ill-educated,” at least concerning the subject matter over which they govern, as per the definition. And these buffoons have their feet jammed in the doorway to the halls of power at what is perhaps the worst possible juncture in history.

Because they believe they know science better than scientists—ludicrous—they vote against any action to repair the damage being done to the carbon-saturated climate at all. They, along with scores of their fellow Republicans, have banded together to form what may be the most uniquely scientifically ignorant cliques in international governance. As Ronald Brownstein wrote in a 2010 piece for the National Journal, “It is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here.” They comprise the Congressional Science Committee that doesn’t get science, and they are determining our policies. Or blocking them.

Rep. Steve King Warns Patriotic DREAMers: ‘We Have A Bus For You To Tijuana’, karoli, Crooks and Liars, April 4, 2014

Rep. Steve King is letting all his hate hang out now, unabashedly and unapologetically. If you came to the US illegally with your parents when you were too young to know better but now want to volunteer for the military, King thinks you should go straight back to the country your parents left.

Rand Paul Would Reward Tax Evasion, Xenophon, Breitbart Unmasked, April 3, 2014

[F]or the rest of us who cannot use accounting tricks with Swiss subsidiaries, it is a great big middle finger. Taxes are for the little people, not big corporations or the friends of Republican senators. If you tell Rand Paul that the tax burden has shifted too much from corporations to individuals in the last 30 years, or that offshore tax shelters play an outsize role in the squeeze on the middle class, Rand Paul will tell you that it is just the way things are supposed to be, and that we should give awards to the companies that best represent his vision of a libertarian future.


The Thing About Privatization

I often hear that the private sector can handle things better than government, with the implication being that government rarely, if ever, gets anything right. Here’s the rub, as I see it: The process of privatization requires handing over public functions, sometimes including the outright sale of public property, to the private sector. This process is necessarily performed by the government.

Why are people so sure, if government generally screws things up, that they won’t also screw up privatization? Why should I trust a company that our incompetent, ineffective, inefficient government selected to take care of things? Isn’t the mere fact that the government thought they were up to the job evidence that they are not up to the job at all?

Repeat this argument as necessary until libertarian heads explode.


Biting the Hand that Still Feeds Them

Fibonacci Blue [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], from FlickrRichard Eskow wrote a piece published at AlterNet a couple of weeks ago entitled “5 Obnoxious Libertarian Oligarchs Who Earned Fortunes from the Government They’d Like to Destroy.” To be fair, not all of the people he identifies want to destroy the government per se, but they certainly fail to appreciate the extent to which said government made their success possible in the first place:

We’re dealing with a cohort of highly fortunate, highly privileged and highly unaware individuals who have been inappropriately lionized by society. That lionization has led them to believe that their wealth and accomplishments are their own doing, rather than the fruits of collaborative effort – effort which in many cases was only made possible through government support.

But instead of thanking the government and the taxpayers for their good fortune, they’ve allowed their own good press to go to their heads. And they’re biting the hand that feeds them, attempting to shut down the system of taxpayer support and government action which created their world.

One of my principle complaints with libertarianism as practiced*, besides its tendency to rely on vague terms like “liberty” and define them in highly self-serving ways, is that it generally ignores all or nearly all of the contributions of the rest of society to certain individuals’ success. (I have many other complaints, but that one sticks out.)

By Leonard Kleinrock [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pictured: Socialist tyrant.

The internet, which came into being because of massive government investment and development, is a singularly ironic place for such disdain for the government to arise. (Any jokes about Al Gore in the comments will get deleted, FYI.) Yes, the private sector made the internet profitable, but it did so once the basic infrastructure was already in place. It’s doubtful that a private company, concerned over quarterly earnings reports and the like, would have taken it upon itself to invent the internet from scratch. Other industries also benefit extensively from “big government.” To give a snarky example, Whole Foods is able to ship and receive products around the company with minimal fear of bandits.

1. Eskow first identifies Tom “Kristallnacht” Perkins, who does something involving venture capital, I think, but who clearly doesn’t have a strong understanding of broader American society or European history: Continue reading