Oh Be Joyful

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conservatism, liberalism and progressivism

E.J. Dionne’s column should give you some holiday cheer.

In 1984 three exit polls pegged Ronald Reagan’s share of the ballots cast by Americans under 30 at between 57 and 60 percent. Reagan-style conservatism seemed fresh, optimistic and innovative. In 2006 voters under 30 gave 60 percent of their votes to Democratic House candidates, according to the shared media exit poll. Conservatism now looks old, tired and ineffectual.

I noticed years ago that the rank-and-file “movement conservative” is younger than I am. Well, OK, most people are younger than I am. But surely you’ve noticed that a disproportionate number of True Believers are people who reached their late teens / early twenties during the Carter or Reagan years at the earliest. They came of age at the same time the right-wing media / think tank infrastructure began to dominate national political discourse, and all their adult lives their brains have been pickled in rightie propaganda.

But now it seems much of the new crop o’ young’uns are looking at the freak show that movement conservatism has become, and saying, holy bleep.

When the right seemed headed to dominance in the early 1990s, the hot political media trend was talk radio and the star was Rush Limbaugh, a smart entrepreneur who spawned imitators around the country and all across the AM dial.

Is it me, or has rightie talk radio become a tad déclassée?

Now the chic medium is televised political comedy and the cool commentators are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Their brilliant ridicule of the Bush administration and conservative bloviators satisfies a political craving at least as great as the one Limbaugh once fed. Stewart and Colbert speak especially to young Americans who rely on their sensible take on the madness that surrounds us. The young helped drive their popularity, and the Droll Duo in turn shaped a new, anti-conservative skepticism.

I like to think that the liberal blogosphere made Stewart and Colbert possible. I remember when the old Media Whores Online site seemed deliciously seditious. Then sedition bloomed on thousands of blogs, broke out of the Internets and into mass media, and became The Daily Show.

Of course, just because the young folks are waking up to the sham of contemporary American conservatism doesn’t mean they’re ready to embrace liberalism. And that may be just as well; it’s not healthy to bounce from one ‘ism” to another. Be skeptical, young folks. Think for yourselves. No one ideology has all the answers. Resist being programmed by anybody.

Since the 1970s, supply-side conservatives have been brilliantly successful in redefining economic thinking. They shifted the popular focus from workers to entrepreneurs, from incomes to wealth, from job creation to share-price increases, and from government policy innovation to private-sector autonomy.

Suddenly economic inequality is a problem even conservatives are taking seriously. Corporate America is looked upon, let us say, in less heroic terms. Economic security is no longer a dirty phrase, and staunch capitalists aren’t quite so eager to preach the virtues of “creative destruction” to displaced industrial workers. Government — with some wariness, to be sure — is being invited back into the economic story to redress grievances and to right imbalances.

Government isn’t the solution to all problems, but it’s actually quite good at addressing some problems. I’m tired of talking heads on television preaching that government can’t be used for anything but making war and protecting embryos.

I mean, all the other industrialized countries have national health care; why can’t we?

At this point I wouldn’t mind placing a moratorium on all ideologies. We need to re-think basic questions, like Why is there government? A smart commenter named Patrick wrote, “A particular kind of libertarian ideology has permeated virtually all levels of public discourse in the US: the notion that Capitalism rather than representative self-government is our founding principle.” I agree. And in recent years I’ve been stunned by the number of people I run into in political forums and on blogs who don’t understand what “representative self-government” means.

The comment thread of a previous post became infested (before I closed it) with libertarians who worship the Constitution as Holy Writ yet dismiss representative self-government as blasphemy. To claim that the Constitution was not created to be an instrument for representative self-government is like claiming a piano isn’t an instrument for playing music. In fact, that’s the point of it.

I hope the young folks are growing weary of being told what they can’t do and what they can’t have because movement conservatism (or libertarianism, or some other ism) says so. Maybe in the years to come they’ll be willing to consider what we can do — for ourselves, and our posterity — if we choose.

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36 Comments

  1. Mycroft Holmes  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:30 pm

    Couple of thoughts…

    First, your postulate about the Daily Show quite simply can’t be accurate, simply because the Daily Show premiered in 1996; Jon Stewart took the helm in 1998, well before the breakout of the blog as an influential part of the political discourse in this country.

    As one of the “young folks” you describe in your post, I will tell you what I’m becoming weary of. I’m becoming weary of the government telling me it needs to take my money and redistribute it to others because modern day “liberalism” has told me it’s for the “greater good.” I’m becoming weary of government espousing Christian values because “conservatism” has told me that it’s the basis of our country. Most of all, I’m becoming weary of people of all political stripes espousing government as the solution to all our problems.

    Finally, I’d just like to point out, again, that in a previous post you have banned people for espousing a political view different from your own, and have deleted one of my comments when I pointed that fact out to you.

  2. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:37 pm

    I’m becoming weary of the government telling me it needs to take my money and redistribute it to others because modern day “liberalism” has told me it’s for the “greater good.”

    And I’m getting damn tired of statements like that.

    Look, son, you are not exactly original. If you have something you’ve thought up yourself to share with people, go ahead. If you’re just going to regurgitate the same propaganda the Right has been shoving at all of us lo these many years, please go away.

  3. Lynne  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:59 pm

    You’re right on, as usual, Barbara! I hope lots of people get to read this.

  4. atablarasa  •  Dec 19, 2006 @11:01 pm

    An aside to Mycroft: Did you ever use a public road, use a public sewer, get a drink from a public fountain, go to a public library or school, depend on law inforcements or the courts, look to the national defense, or expect that your food and drugs are unadulterated? If so, stop whining about the government “taking your money.” You, as a member of this society, have a *responsibility* to help support your country. You, sir, have a moral, ethical, and entirely self-serving responsibility to give generously to what is know as the common good.

    Now, Maha, good post. Mycroft has rather clearly demonstrated that the Capitalism meme is well established, but not well reasoned. Thanks!

    PS I miss the Horse….

  5. Mycroft Holmes  •  Dec 19, 2006 @11:42 pm

    Why you continue to equate me with the right is beyond me. I may have had something (but most certainly not everything) in common with the GOP of the ’80s, but now I have about as much love for the GOP as I do for the Dems. In fact, if you look at the statements I made, I slam the Dems and GOP equally. Just because I disagree with your socialist sentiment does not mean I’m “from the right.”

    That said, I’d like to address atablarasa’s statement about public roads, sewers, law enforcement, etc. I have no issue in principle paying for these things (an exception could be made for food and drugs, but that’s a story for another day.) The important phrase in that previous statement is “in principle,” because the devil, as they say, is in the details. But that’s not really what I want to address. I should make clear that when I was discussing “income redistribution” and the government taking my money, I was talking about things like welfare at the federal level (an important distinction!), like a nationalized healthcare system. Things that aren’t provided for in the Constitution.

    I don’t have anything against providing for the common good. In fact, I’m planning on making a career out of the military because I feel a need to help defend that common good. What I have an issue with is the government forcing people, against their will, to provide for something above and beyond that common good. A road system benefits everyone. Welfare…not so much. And because of that, I feel that welfare should be the responsibility of private charities, so I can choose who I give to and how much money I wish to give to those less fortunate, instead of having it forcibly taken from me.

    It is all about the gun in the room, which is always there, whether you want to admit to it or not.

  6. maha  •  Dec 20, 2006 @12:12 am

    Why you continue to equate me with the right is beyond me.

    I think it’s the way you express standard conservative views. But that’s just me.

    Just because I disagree with your socialist sentiment does not mean I’m “from the right.”

    I’m not a socialist. The fact that you assume I am is proof that you’re pretty much lost inside the right wing echo chamber and can’t find your way out.

    What I have an issue with is the government forcing people, against their will, to provide for something above and beyond that common good. A road system benefits everyone.

    National health care would benefit everyone also, on several levels. It would help the trade deficit imbalance by reducing the cost of good manufactured in this country. (General Motors has become an HMO that makes cars.) Study this document carefully to find out why national health care in other countries delivers better service at less cost than the U.S.

    And please don’t be tiresome and tell me about the waiting lines in Canada.

    [Update] See also “A Conservative Convert To Socialized Medicine.”

    Now, I’ve told you to start being original or bugger off. I don’t have time to provide you private tutoring to show you all the ways you’ve been lied to by the Right. You get one more post before you are banned. When I want to be exposed to right wing crap I’ll watch Fox News.

  7. Donna  •  Dec 20, 2006 @12:25 am

    There is something bizarre about supply-side conservative ‘capitalists’ being ok with government assistance to industry [the enormous’savings and loan’ bail-out, for example] but not ok with government assistance to individuals [those unemployed due to out-sourcing, for example].

    Maybe my thinking is simplistic…..I am no economist….but it seems to me that true market capitalism works well in motivating people to engage creatively in life’s challenges, but only as long as exchange of goods and labor is part of an actual equal opportunity field. Unregulated financial market capitalism adds a layer of distant ownership [stock exchange money earning money instead of ideas and effort earning money] which can torque that simple capitalism model toward monopoly control, leading to suppression of competition and the dampening of entreprenuerial spirit. Who are the raiders except those with the bucks who put the pressure on smaller entities in the system?
    I think of capitalism as being like the brain and will that organizes the body to follow through on an idea, while some Wall Street financial market players are like piggy-backing leeches, sucking too much sustenance out of the system by piling up income that disappears from circulation.
    In a democracy, government should be concerned about capitalism and financial entities to be sure that all of the whole body [the populace] is getting nourishment from the economy. And since we are all inhabiting the same vulnerable planet, government should be concerned with the critical matters which capitalism cannot address, like environmental well-being.

  8. Mycroft Holmes  •  Dec 20, 2006 @1:04 am

    Perhaps this will establish my “non-conservative” credentials. I would agree that there is something bizarre about supposed supply-side conservatives in favor if government bail-outs of business. Of course, we then take that fact in different directions: she uses it as justification for increasing overall government involvement in the economy, while I think it should be cut, along with most government involvement in the economy.

    I do have to take issue with your criticism of “Unregulated financial market capitalism”. You seem to want to return to a services/goods based economy, which is folly in today’s global economy. You trot out the standard leftist strawman of “the rich banker.” But the reality is that anyone with a small chunk of change is able to get into the market. If I can do it as a middle-class teenager (with the money I earned myself, not from mommy and daddy), I would think a pretty large group of the population would be able to as well.

    The bottom line is that free markets equal free people. Right now we don’t have true free markets, but swinging the economy to the left wouldn’t bring a free market either.

  9. Joe  •  Dec 20, 2006 @1:11 am

    @Mycroft …
    “It is all about the gun in the room” … “I have an issue with is the government forcing people, against their will” … “having it forcibly taken from me” … “I’m planning on making a career out of the military…”

    You have issues.

  10. Mycroft Holmes  •  Dec 20, 2006 @1:23 am

    Care to explain, Joe?

    I’m going to take a guess and say that you can’t get past the apparent disconnect between my opposition to the government forcing people and my choice to join the military. Well, that’s it right there, really. The government forcing people isn’t a choice at all, while my choice to enter the military is entirely voluntary.

    I’m not a big fan of ad hominems, but like I said, I’d like to hear why I have “issues.”

  11. Joe  •  Dec 20, 2006 @1:46 am

    Mycroft, I apologize for the ad hominem attack. I posted before I realized you were a teenager. I just noticed a lot of language that indicated that you put everything in terms of some kind of violent struggle. I was afraid that your choice to enter the military might stem from a desire to gain power … or the opportunity to be one of those holding that “gun in the room”. I hope that is not the case, because there are many good reasons to join the military. I should know, I did myself.

    (I talked about making my decision here: http://www.mahablog.com/2006/12/13/dont-miss-5/#comments )

  12. Mycroft Holmes  •  Dec 20, 2006 @1:58 am

    Good god, no. That’s the very last thing I want. If anything, I’d be the guy that if thrust into power for whatever reason, would return as quickly as possible to the people/democracy/republic, what have you. I take the oath I swore to the Constitution very seriously. The reason I said those things was that I take government coercion very seriously as well, and have a problem with the fact that almost everything the government does is backed up by the threat of force.

    All that said, it appears we have something in common: I’m currently in my second year of AFROTC and loving every minute of it (although I’m thinking about dropping out and enlisting…that’s a whole ‘nother story).

  13. moonbat  •  Dec 20, 2006 @2:33 am

    Mycroft, I come from an earlier time when the government was seen in a positive light because it definitely brought better lives to many. FDR was a hero in my parents household. It was largely because of the New Deal that my parents enjoyed a comfortable middle class lifestyle. It was because of this lifestyle, which included good schools and good government, that I was the first in my family to go to a good state university and get a decent, low cost education.

    When I was a child, the interstate highway system was being constructed, which let us travel far and wide in this great country of ours, to places which were once remote and inaccessible. We were about to put a man on the moon, and were inspired by our astronauts’ adventures. The air and water, filthy from industrial and agricultural pollution, were being cleaned up because of government action. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Times were definitely good, getting better, and it was because people pulled together and achieved great things together for the good of all.

    And so you cannot imagine my disappointment when the 1980s arrived, and Ronald Reagan announced that government is the problem. I feel sorry for those who grew up during the 80s, who never knew how good life could be when we all pulled together. What I saw in 80s was selfishness and greed glorified, an ugly shadow, a pale caricature of what passed before. I hear in your words the same animosity toward government that I first began to hear in the 80s, the same resentment at being coerced to contribute to the common good.

    This animosity is almost incomprehensible to me. I know that government is not perfect, and I even wrote about tax resistance a few posts ago in response to the abattoir Bush created in Iraq. But in light of all the tremendous benefits provided by government in making a better life for everybody that I’ve seen in my lifetime, I just don’t get this hostility you have. It seems, by turns like ingratitude, selfishness, or naivete to me.

    Do see A Day In the Life of Joe Middle Class Republican.

  14. Joe  •  Dec 20, 2006 @3:00 am

    Mycroft, stick with ROTC if you can, you sound like officer material to me. I say this despite the fact that I disagree with much of what you say. But you are bright, articulate, and enthusiastically participating in the public discourse, while most of your peers are enthusiastically participating in friend-farming on myspace.

    As for “…a problem with the fact that almost everything the government does is backed up by the threat of force,” well, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s how all “governing” works.

    Check out Bretrand Russel’s essay “Nice People” in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Why-Am-Not-Christian-Religion/dp/0671203231/ref=pd_sim_b_2/102-9411530-2729751

  15. Bruce Baugh  •  Dec 20, 2006 @4:55 am

    It’s worth noting, often, that the Constitution many libertarians venerate exists only in their heads. For instance, the real Constitution explicitly says that patents and copyrights are temporary grants of monopoly privileges given for the purpose of promoting the general good. There’s no notion of intellectual property in there at all. You wouldn’t know this from the way most libertarians write about intellectual property. It goes like that with a lot of clauses, too – as you said, Maha, their real creed is simply unfettered capitalism.

  16. marijam  •  Dec 20, 2006 @5:50 am

    Mycroft, expand your mind and read Screwed The Undeclared War on the Middle Class. Then read While Europe Slept. Most liberals are not the far-left wing the far-right wing says that they are. As most all Americans, there are nuances and for the most part, America really is ‘purple’ and not all red or all blue. My home state of Kansas is a ‘red’ state, but a lot of the people I worked with there believed whole heartedly in unions – until the government stuck a knife in them and assisted the corporate world in destroying them. My father and my uncle are now retired, on pensions from their aerospace jobs negotiated by the unions they were members of. Recently I had a conversation with my dad about the trend today to force everyone out of the pension system and out of health care and he was really sad and disappointed in this nation because of it. The Golden Age of America was the period during FDR’s administration and until Reagan took office. Reagan may have made us all feel good about being Americans and contributed greatly to the fall of the Berlin Wall but he also began tearing down America as my father and my uncle knew it. Americans cannot compete with $1.00 per day labor in other nations and education isn’t going to change that one iota.

  17. maha  •  Dec 20, 2006 @7:59 am

    I do have to take issue with your criticism of “Unregulated financial market capitalism”. You seem to want to return to a services/goods based economy, which is folly in today’s global economy.

    I don’t believe I used the phrase “unregulated financial market capitalism” and the virtues of services/goods based economies is utterly outside the scope of what we’re discussing here.

    Learn history, son. The point of regulating securities, like the stock market, is that if nobody is watching the money guys on Wall Street and keeping them honest they cheat, lie, and steal like bandits. Proper security regulation makes it safe for the small investor out in Iowa, who has no insider knowledge, to safely invest in the stock market without getting ripped off.

    Laissez-faire types were in control of the federal government through the 1920s. The result was the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, which was nasty business. You should learn about that. After FDR took over the White House in 1933, much of his New Deal legislation had to do with banks and securities. The purpose of this was not to return to a “services/goods based economy” but to protect people from being swindled, or from losing their entire life savings if the bank failed. The latter happened a lot, which is why a lot of people of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations were leery of keeping money in banks.

    The period after World War II until about 1972 was one of sustained and substantial economic growth that turned the American middle class into the most prosperous middle class the world has ever seen. Ordinary working people who had lived hand to mouth during the Depression ended their days owning juicy stock portfolios and winter homes in Florida. This prosperity was made possible by the New Deal reforms of banking and securities, among other things (no conservative will admit that, but it’s the truth) and by post World War II programs that subsidized mortgages to make it easier to buy homes, and by the GI Bill that paid for veterans’ college educations.

    The reasons why the economy stalled ca. 1972 — and never really recovered in many ways — are several and complex. But a big change that occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s was that lots of middle class people turned against “entitlement” programs and decided they didn’t want their money taken away from them and redistributed to others. The same people who had achieved financial security and prosperity because “entitlement” tax money had been spent on them decided they didn’t wanted to spend their money on others.

    I explain this in more detail here.

    I am 55 now, and for the past thirty years I have watched the American middle class become more and more insecure, moving closer to the edge of ruin, and all because conservatives are going about whispering nonsense in people’s ears like “I’m becoming weary of the government telling me it needs to take my money and redistribute it to others because modern day ‘liberalism’ has told me it’s for the ‘greater good.'”

    And please note that every single time the righties manage to deregulate some part of the financial industry or business, what follows is massive fraud in which large numbers of hard-working, honest Americans are ruined. Example: The Savings and Loan scandals.

    I mean, if you want to turn America into a third-world shithole that’s one thing, but if you don’t, you need to tell those voices in your head to shut up, and you need to learn a few things about how the world really works. The fact is, the further we go toward the brave new world the “free market” people want, the more unstable our economy becomes.

    BTW, ” free markets equal free people” doesn’t hold true in the real world. It’s a nice phrase, but it’s been proved wrong over and over and over. Stop spouting empty rhetoric and learn to think.

    Regarding the Constitution, one resource you might want to check out is FindLaw’s annotated Constitution. You can go through the notes and read how each and every clause has been interpreted over time. Might teach you one or two things.

    [Update] Oh, yes, and about why we think you are on the Right — there’s an ancient book that all college students had to read back in my day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It’s called The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom, and the author is Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. This is a seminal work of American political science, and it explains what “Left” and “Right” actually mean. Read it and understand why you are, in fact, firmly on the Right as Schlesinger defined the terms.

    Somebody said you were a teenager, which is why I’ve been trying to be patient in this comment. But I don’t have time to provide you with private tutoring, so I’m going to suspend your commenting privileges so that responding to you isn’t taking up everyone’s time. Please don’t take this personally.

  18. patrick  •  Dec 20, 2006 @10:35 am

    There are a lot of points one could make about the meaning of “the general welfare.” We could ask, for example, what we should do for a child born into abject poverty. Is it beneficial to all of society to try to help him? Let’s say we’re talking about a child with a drug-addicted prostitute mother and no extended family or community. Helping the child is going to be really expensive. It’s going to mean food, healthcare, education; to really give him a chance will take a commitment from society, a belief that this is both right and necessary. A belief that it’s not just good for him, but good for all of us, kind of like roads. So before we even think about it, let’s consider the alternative. Ignoring any moral or ethical questions, what’s the cost/benefit trade off to society?

    Let’s say through some miracle of persistence, the child lives long enough to get his own criminal career started: drugs, robbery, assault, just typical subsistence stuff. (We’re in the libertarian universe here, so no chance of any education to give our kid a .01% chance of escaping it all and becoming an American Dream poster boy. Sorry.) What will it cost us to police and eventually try, convict, and incarcerate him? Keep in mind that we are going to give our tax dollars to a big company who builds and maintains the prison he’ll live in. Privatization is really efficient, right? So what’s it going to cost us per year to keep him alive in prison? And since prisons are training grounds for bigger and more violent crimes, we have to assume this will be virtually life-long, probably with an increasing price tag. And we haven’t even considered the cost of the crime itself – property loss, medical bills for victims and so forth. So there are a lot of factors to consider before making a snap judgment about which scenario is good for all of society and which is not so much.

    You might say this is crazy: the likely outcome is that the child will die long before any of this happens, and thus we’ll be spared the cost of policing and imprisoning him. Fair enough. But if there’s no one to pay for the funeral, should We the People take on that burden too? Surely that’s unfair. If we do it in one case, pretty soon we have to have a whole department that’s responsible for finding and burying people who’ve died of starvation or exposure or poverty in general. I don’t want people taking my money and using it to bury a bunch of dead beats! (pardon the pun). Maybe it would be better for society if we let the corpses lie in the street. Maybe that would serve as a warning to others not to be so stupid as to be born poor. Maybe other babies will make better choices and get into middle class families where they can learn to work hard and earn a little change (not get it from mom and dad!) and get into the market where, thanks to reasonably even-handed regulation, they’ll stand a half-way decent chance of getting a fair return.

  19. Donna  •  Dec 20, 2006 @10:39 am

    I am the one who used the words ‘unregulated financial market capitalism’ to refer to non-governmental [i.e., not responsive to the citizenry] torquing of the freedom inhering in ‘pure’ capitalism.

    Think of a river that meanders according to variations of climate as representing ‘pure’ capitalism. Folks who benefit from the river make use of and adjust to the variations of the river’s course. Think of small bands of wealthy financiers who use dams or levees to direct the river into lakes enjoyed only by those who have the big bucks to live lakeside. In that way the financiers can take out of circulation a lot of water needed by the many. In the past few decades, what has replaced the ‘water’ taken out by the few is a phenomenon of ‘life as inane consumerism’ which is like manipulating the many to give back as much as possible of whatever water they ‘earned’ so that the lakes can stay at a certain level. That manipulation involves shortchanging the labor field wage level as well as using advertising directed at children and drumming an ideology into heads like Mycroft’s by the lake-owner friendly politicians.

    In pure capitalism, the river meanders. In unpure capitalism, the river’s course is set by the few in a way that is ultimately, even if that takes decades, destructive of the entire economy. It is like creating enough arid land that even the moisture that would precipitate as rain to feed the river is lost.

  20. maha  •  Dec 20, 2006 @11:13 am

    Thanks, Donna. I thought it interesting that the young man interpreted a call for regulation of markets as a desire “to return to a services/goods based economy,” as if there are only two possible choices — unregulated markets or a services/goods economy. That’s clearly the result of brainwashing. If indeed Mycroft is a teenager just starting to learn about the larger world I suppose we should be patient with the gross oversimplifications. But at the same time there’s a big difference between expressing a genuine opinion and merely reflecting back one’s ideological imprinting. I’m afraid the young man hasn’t figured that out yet.

  21. patrick  •  Dec 20, 2006 @11:14 am

    My last comment was way off track from what I actually wanted to say. I just got sidetracked. Grrr.

    What your post made me think about was, movement conservatives have been saying a couple of things for at least the two decades that I’ve been politically aware: 1) We trust individuals over the government, and 2) New Deal-like programs are bad for America. So what I want to know is, if they believe 1, why are they so afraid to let the people decide about 2? Why, when they try to dismantle such programs, do they dishonestly pitch their plans as “reform.” If conservatives trust individuals so much, why not just say, “we don’t think this is a good program and we want to terminate it.” And more importantly, why does our Free Press let them get away with it?

  22. paradoctor  •  Dec 20, 2006 @12:04 pm

    I grew up in time to see the moon shots – and the Vietnam war. I saw the interstate highway system – and COINTELPRO. I saw desegregation – and the war on drugs. Therefore my view of the federal gov’t is ambiguous. Reagan was wrong; government is not “the” problem, for religion and business are also problems; but it is “a” problem, and from time to time it can become a serious problem. (As can religion and business. One of the functions of each of those three is to keep the other two in check.)

  23. Avedon  •  Dec 20, 2006 @1:35 pm

    I don’t get how people can be fooled into believing the libertarian line, to tell the truth. Redistribution of wealth is what keeps you free. All of your contracts, and even the dollar itself, are backed up by the threat of government force.

    “Civilization” is when we decide we don’t actually want to have to be physically capable of beating up our employer (and our employer’s paid army) in order to get paid for our work and keep what we’ve earned. Your tax dollars pay for that – and for keeping the wealthy from turning into an aristocracy that can drive us back into barbarism.

    Of course, rich people use the services of the state far more than poor and middle-class people do, so of course they should pay more for the privilege. But they should never be allowed to get so rich that they are the only ones who can benefit from the system.

    Conservatives think the rest of us should work all our lives to make rich people richer, pay taxes that can be funnelled into wars and other expensive government deals that the rest of us do not benefit from, and then we should all die poor.

    Libertarians are, indeed, people who just haven’t thought it through, because they don’t understand how money works.

    PS. Britain’s “successful” privatized postal system, which has pissed people off for as long as it’s been privatized because it has become increasingly inefficient as a result, has just decided to close a lot of rural post offices because they weren’t cost-effective. Which, I guess, is why it’s not called a “postal service”.

  24. Bruce Baugh  •  Dec 20, 2006 @1:43 pm

    Avedon’s right on here. Another thing that libertarian conventional wisdom fails to grasp, along with the ways money works, is the very meaning of civilization itself. “There is no such thing as a free lunch” is a denial of the positive externality of anything, and positive externalities are exactly why we have communities and tools. We are surrounded by free lunches, the unearned and no-cost surplus of a lot of people’s efforts. It’s been free lunches ever since the lever and wheel. There are countless benefits for which nobody should have to pay extra, because their creation is incidental to something else that’s already been paid for.

    Civilization isn’t just about getting more stuff, but about getting better value for and from the stuff we get.

  25. jh  •  Dec 20, 2006 @2:30 pm

    It appears our young friend Mycroft has been mainlining the libertarian kool-aid.

    I would suggest he research the following

    Great Depression – a classic example of why laissez-fair economics will lead to meltdown.

    The New Deal – to see an example of the government subsidizing the common good for the benefit of all.

    Glass Steagall Act, Repeal of and the Savings and Loan Bailout – to see what happens when deregulation occurs & to reaffirm why you need government in both the regulatory and entitlement roles

    Just about every other industrialized nation on the planet – to see why you need Nationalized Health Care.

    Just about every other developing nation on the planet (particularly the ever-present slums/shanty towns) – to see why government redistribution of wealth in the form of welfare and other entitlements is a beneficial, preventative measure as well as a moral one.

  26. patrick  •  Dec 20, 2006 @2:35 pm

    Libertarians are, indeed, people who just haven’t thought it through, because they don’t understand how money works.

    OK, I’m no fan of the libertarian line. But I will come to their ideological defense to this extent: a true libertarian (as opposed to just a whiney, selfish tax dodger) believes very strongly that Article I section 8 of the Constitution and amendments 9 and 10 of the Bill of rights mean that the Federal government simply doesn’t have the power to do much of anything but fight wars and deliver the mail. They are not typically motivated by what will work so much as by what they think is right, according to their reading of the constitution.

    So, if you’re going to butt heads with a real libertarian, you should be prepared to talk about not what will and won’t work, but also what it does and doesn’t say in the constitution. Also, you should be prepared to walk away frustrated.

  27. maha  •  Dec 20, 2006 @2:41 pm

    Article I section 8 of the Constitution and amendments 9 and 10 of the Bill of rights mean that the Federal government simply doesn’t have the power to do much of anything but fight wars and deliver the mail. They are not typically motivated by what will work so much as by what they think is right, according to their reading of the constitution.

    And, of course, anyone who understands the history of how the Constitution came to be written (to replace the Articles of Confederation) knows that that’s bogus.

    So, if you’re going to butt heads with a real libertarian, you should be prepared to talk about not what will and won’t work, but also what it does and doesn’t say in the constitution. Also, you should be prepared to walk away frustrated.

    That last sentence is why I don’t waste my time arguing with them. I might refute what they say, but the refutation is for the behalf of other readers. You could raise the ghost of James Madison himself to explain why the libertarians are wrong, and it wouldn’t make a dent.

  28. Dan S.  •  Dec 20, 2006 @4:09 pm

    You could raise the ghost of James Madison himself to explain why the libertarians are wrong, and it wouldn’t make a dent.

    It would, however, be extremely cool.

  29. Diogenes Of Pumpkintown  •  Dec 20, 2006 @4:13 pm

    Both right wing “libertarians”, who believe that government should stay out of the business of regulating corporations, and people on the left who believe that government is necessary to protect society from the predations of corporations, profoundly misunderstand what a modern corporation is.

    The truth is that corporations are not independent of the government at all, but rather a highly artificial creation of government.

    A corporation is a legal fiction, an unnatural, artificial entity created by and existing only because of decrees of government (aka, laws). Ole Adam Smith must be rolling over in his grave to see what has become of his idea of the “invisible hand of the free market”, how it has been twisted and perverted to rationalize our current highly artificial economic system dominated by massive government created entities called “corporations”.

    To right wing libertarians, I like to point out that the corporate economic model is a universe away from what Adam Smith was talking about, that it makes no sense whatsoever to talk as if (as right wing libertarians do) that we are still living in the time of Thomas Jefferson. To left wingers who like to claim that government is our only protection against the excesses (and such excesses are indeed many and varied) of corporations, it needs to be pointed out that corporations themselves are artificial creations of government.

  30. maha  •  Dec 20, 2006 @5:12 pm

    The truth is that corporations are not independent of the government at all, but rather a highly artificial creation of government.

    Believe it or not, most of us here know what corporations are and can even declaim at length about Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad and how the SCOTUS decided 14th Amendment protections of “persons” applied also to corporations. We gnash our teeth about this from time to time.

    Really, you ought to lurk here awhile before you presume you have anything to say that the regulars haven’t already figured out. This is a sharp and knowledgeable crew.

  31. Diogenes Of Pumpkintown  •  Dec 20, 2006 @5:49 pm

    Damn.

    Here I am, drinking and looking for a fight, and that is all you have to say? 😉

  32. Diogenes Of Pumpkintown  •  Dec 20, 2006 @6:23 pm

    Btw . . . your claim above doesn’t jibe with your singling out a commentator for praise for stating that free markets can only exist in the context of laws, in the immediately preceding thread (chronologically speaking). Which, btw, was not an accurate statement on his part.

    I suspect that quite the majority of your readers are oblivious to the point about the connection between governments and corporations that I raised here, that they see corporations as a product of the “free market” that, thank god, we need government to “protect” us from.

  33. maha  •  Dec 20, 2006 @6:31 pm

    I suspect that quite the majority of your readers are oblivious to the point about the connection between governments and corporations that I raised here, that they see corporations as a product of the “free market” that, thank god, we need government to “protect” us from.

    Son, you don’t know what the hell the majority of my readers are or are not oblivious to. If you want to address a specific comment in the thread that’s one thing, but when you make out-of-your-ass assumptions about opinions that have not been expressed, you are being, well, an ass. And you are annoying me.

    If you don’t understand why “free” markets can only exist in the context of laws, then I suggest going somewhere there are no laws and trying do some business. Let us know how it works. If you survive.

  34. jh  •  Dec 21, 2006 @12:50 pm

    “I suspect that quite the majority of your readers are oblivious to the point about the connection between governments and corporations that I raised here,”

    You suspect wrong. As maha stated, the anti-corporatist (not to be confused with anti-corporate) left is quite familiar with the history of the corporation.

  35. Eric Dondero  •  Dec 26, 2006 @10:12 am

    No, “Rightie” media hasn’t become passe’. It’s just the Conservatives are passing the baton over to their partners, us Libertarians. We’re the other half of the Right-wing Coalition.

    Jon Stewart just called himself a “libertarian” on the Daily Show the other day. (Story at http://www.mainstreamlibertarian.com). It’s getting to the point where everybody in the media is jumping all over themselves to identify with us libertarians.

    Oh, well. We’ll take it.

    But if Hillary Clinton starts calling herself a “libertarian”…

    Eric, CEO at http://www.mainstreamlibertarian.com

  36. maha  •  Dec 26, 2006 @10:36 am

    It’s getting to the point where everybody in the media is jumping all over themselves to identify with us libertarians.

    For the record — not me.

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