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Shermer on the humanist movement, and on libertarianism
Posted: 07 November 2007 02:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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Barto - 06 November 2007 07:21 AM

Ron, I think what you mention is one of the worst problem with libertarianism. The absolute absence of regulation won’t make us free, it will make us slaves of the people with the power to enslave us and the freedom to use it without limits. Libertarianism relies on the idea of the invisible hand regulating the society. This idea is pretty simple, beatiful and interesting: if everyone had the freedom to reject any offer they consider inconvenient and accept what is considered convinient, the society will reach an equilibrium of wellfare for all of its members. The invisible hand arises when no one has the power to influence the market by him/her self alone, and in the real world, as you mention there are player who can, by themselves, influence in the social behaviour.

The invisible hand will work to correct excesses in the market if it can ensure a level playing field. The problem you describe of “people with the power to enslave us” happens more often in mixed economies, where large corporations use their influence with government to increase regulations to protect their market share. If government wasn’t constantly awarding contracts to favoured corporations, giving them tax incentives, using regulations to hinder competitors, it would be more difficult for large corporations to gain a stranglehold on the economy.

The strangest paradox for me after spending a little time on a conservative discussion forum was that all of the evangelicals and dominionists who believe in intelligent design, could not accept the concept that emergent intelligence( Dawkins’ blind watchmaker) could guide biological evolution, but yet they would embrace the blind watchmaker as the guiding force in economics, even wrapping in “Christian principles.”  On the other hand, leftwing secularists don’t believe in intelligent design in the natural world, but they insist that we need ID to divide up economic wealth.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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workinprogress - 07 November 2007 02:19 AM
zarcus - 06 November 2007 06:53 AM

That’s pretty interesting, workinprogress, it’s a view I am fairly unfamiliar so you provided some insight.

I wish I could find the interview with Michael Shermer about his moderating his Libertarian stance. Basically he was saying that while working on his book, The Science of Good and Evil, he saw more greed and less checks and balances then he was aware, which caused him to modify his economic Libertarian stance. Socially, it appears to me that Michael is fairly liberal, but I find much in the Libertarian social stance as close to liberalism. But, I think this is often modified when it becomes obvious that this can be taken advantage of, such as the examples you have given.

In the days before John Maynard Keynes and FDR’s New Deal, a liberal was essentially a libertarian by today’s definition. The economic collapse of the Great Depression caused most liberals to lose faith in the marketplace and start advocating a greater role for government to manage the economy. Libertarians range from disciples of Milton Friedman who want limited government to outright anarchists that would end taxation and dismantle and privatize basic services provided by government.

I haven’t read Michael Shermer’s thoughts on libertarianism, but many of us have started re-thinking libertarian ideas such as charter schooling and support for private schooling now that we have seen how the religious right has used these policies to put education under church control. Unlike public schools, these private Christian academies are free to teach creationism and intelligent design in all of their science classes. I doubt Michael Shermer is happy about that situation!

Thank you for the insights, Ron. I am someone that sees the tensions over how much of a role government should play in society as a very good thing. I doubt there will be an absolute consensus about this and there will continue to be differing levels of views along the political spectrum. In a way I see some of the role of government as vast experiments, with wide margins for trial and error. Or something like that rolleyes

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Posted: 07 November 2007 07:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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I am also a Libertarian, but prefer the Liberal approach primarily because of the religious agendas of the present Conservatives.  I feel that defending individual freedoms are more important than how we trade money.  I see this as a bottom up Libertarian approach as opposed to top down.  While I think libertarianism is theoretically the best government system for the future, I reject any drastic economic changes towards this end to protect economic wellbeing from going into shock.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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workinprogress,
Interesting connection you make between natural selection in biology and the “invisible hand” in economics. I will start with the disclaimer that I’m a civil libertarian (ACLU member sort of thing) but economically Keynesian. I think the analogy you draw is essentially the same principle as that behind Social Darwinism, the idea that survival of the fittest can be applied to individuals in a social system as well as to organisms in a biological sense. The main problem with this is that nature is ethically neutral and disinterested in the welfare of us or any of its creations. Genotype dictates phenotype, and phenotype is selected for by environmental conditions leading to changes in genes to respond to selective conditions. Things don’t get “better,” they just respond to the conditions in which they live. This may seem to be improvement, but if conditions change the more perfectly adapted species are often the first to go extinct.

On the other hand, social systems, including economies, are human creations built for a purpose. We generally agree, I would guess, that the purpose is the maximal personal welfare (both in physical temrs and in less easily defined temrs like, personal freedom, fulfillment, etc). The political argument between libertarian and more pro-government ideas is mostly about which system best leads to this goal. There is certainly pelnty of room for argument, and I don’t think there is defintive data. My reading of history and economics suggests that people in general do better when the incetive forces of capitalism are constrained by a strong representative democratic government, though clearly there are flaws in that system as well. You likely feel that the minimization of government control of economic interactions is more effective. But the point I want to make is that we are designing, building, and refining a social system to meet certain goals and values, and this is fundamentally different from biological evolution. In a sense, ID is the correct explanation for economics because we are the intelligent designers, but of course it is not the correct model for nature because there is not corresponding designer.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 12:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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mckenzievmd - 07 November 2007 10:26 AM

workinprogress,
Interesting connection you make between natural selection in biology and the “invisible hand” in economics. I will start with the disclaimer that I’m a civil libertarian (ACLU member sort of thing) but economically Keynesian. I think the analogy you draw is essentially the same principle as that behind Social Darwinism, the idea that survival of the fittest can be applied to individuals in a social system as well as to organisms in a biological sense. The main problem with this is that nature is ethically neutral and disinterested in the welfare of us or any of its creations. Genotype dictates phenotype, and phenotype is selected for by environmental conditions leading to changes in genes to respond to selective conditions. Things don’t get “better,” they just respond to the conditions in which they live. This may seem to be improvement, but if conditions change the more perfectly adapted species are often the first to go extinct.

On the other hand, social systems, including economies, are human creations built for a purpose. We generally agree, I would guess, that the purpose is the maximal personal welfare (both in physical temrs and in less easily defined temrs like, personal freedom, fulfillment, etc). The political argument between libertarian and more pro-government ideas is mostly about which system best leads to this goal. There is certainly pelnty of room for argument, and I don’t think there is defintive data. My reading of history and economics suggests that people in general do better when the incetive forces of capitalism are constrained by a strong representative democratic government, though clearly there are flaws in that system as well. You likely feel that the minimization of government control of economic interactions is more effective. But the point I want to make is that we are designing, building, and refining a social system to meet certain goals and values, and this is fundamentally different from biological evolution. In a sense, ID is the correct explanation for economics because we are the intelligent designers, but of course it is not the correct model for nature because there is not corresponding designer.

It is ironic how so many social darwinists there are on the religious right, and I’m sure that is a large part of their attitude regarding economics. Much of the attitude of social conservatives is based on carefully guarded racism. The political and religious leaders won’t say it out loud, but their supporter on the conservative forums aren’t shy about voicing their opposition to immigration by non-whites and a large number of “christians” on my forum even strongly opposed the Bush administration policy to fund anti-HIV drugs for Africa as a waste of their money. At the same time, these are people who have no problem with spending billions on foreign wars and the War on Terror. You can learn more from the attitudes of supporters of evangelists and rightwing pundits than you can from their leaders.

But my support for market economics in principle is based mainly on the virtues of keeping systems simple and independent. Government may have to be brought in to provide basic services, and I would include education and basic healthcare as functions that should be done by government. But it would be a mistake if the U.S. tries to adopt a Canadian or European model that tries to outlaw private medical care. Here in Canada, there are long waiting lists for many medical treatments and because the government in Ontario outlaws private clinics, those who can afford to pay for first class healthcare cross the border to use hospitals and clinics in the U.S.

I went through this experience personally several years ago, when my now deceased father needed an MRI after an apparent stroke. Because he was over 80 at the time he was put at the back of the line to get an MRI so the doctors could see exactly what damage was done to his brain. Since his “stroke” symptoms weren’t improving, his doctor advised us to go to a clinic in Buffalo that offered virtual same-day service. The MRI taken discovered he had a brain aneurysm rather than a stroke, and he would have died from the bleeding if we had waited for the same test to be done through our medicare system. This is not an isolated incident either. Many Canadians are believed to have died of diseases such as cancer because the disease spread and they were not able to get treatment early enough to save their lives. Long story short, in my opinion there should be a mixed system of public and private health care.

Just as in healthcare, governnment departments are going to be less incentive to be less efficient and productive than private systems that provide some economic reward. I guess it’s not a flattering statement about humanity that we still have trouble acting selflessly for people outside of our immediate families, but until we can act as altruistically as ant or bee colonies, we’ll need some sort of market system that rewards the creators of new wealth, even if it creates a disparity between rich and poor. For my part, I am certainly closer to that poor class than I am to the rich!

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Posted: 07 November 2007 01:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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Well, I certainly agree that we needn’t and shouldn’t outlaw private healthcare. But I think the general evidence supports the notion that government involvement in regulating and providing healthcare for those who can’t afford the private system results in more and better care and quality of life for those people than a purely private system. What happened to you father was clearly an example of a flaw in the system there, but I can cite similar stories about people dying in ambulances being driven from close private hospitals to distant public ones because the former wouldn’t provide them with care. I think a balance of market incentives and standards, regulations, and safety-net level care provided by government is probably the best we can do until, as you say, we discover some so far unachievable level of altruism.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 02:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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mckenzievmd - 07 November 2007 10:26 AM

I will start with the disclaimer that I’m a civil libertarian (ACLU member sort of thing) but economically Keynesian.

[quote author=“wikipedia”]Through the 1950s, moderate degrees of government demand leading industrial development, and use of fiscal and monetary counter-cyclical policies continued, and reached a peak in the “go go” 1960s, where it seemed to many Keynesians that prosperity was now permanent. However, with the oil shock of 1973, and the economic problems of the 1970s, modern liberal economics began to fall out of favor. During this time, many economies experienced high and rising unemployment, coupled with high and rising inflation, contradicting the Phillips curve’s prediction. This stagflation meant that both expansionary (anti-recession) and contractionary (anti-inflation) policies had to be applied simultaneously, a clear impossibility. This dilemma led to the rise of ideas based upon more classical analysis, including monetarism, supply-side economics and new classical economics. This produced a “policy bind” and the collapse of the Keynesian consensus on the economy.

I’d look up the terms in bold before adhering to Keynesian economics.  Or maybe elaborate a little on why you still use this label.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 02:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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Well, I can’t speak for Brennen, but I think the most persuasive liberal economics view nowadays is known as “New Keynsian” economics. New Keynsians are Keynsians in seeing a central useful role for the government and central bank in regulating the economy, but they do take into account some of the later arguments of classical economists.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 04:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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The invisible hand will work to correct excesses in the market if it can ensure a level playing field. The problem you describe of “people with the power to enslave us” happens more often in mixed economies, where large corporations use their influence with government to increase regulations to protect their market share. If government wasn’t constantly awarding contracts to favoured corporations, giving them tax incentives, using regulations to hinder competitors, it would be more difficult for large corporations to gain a stranglehold on the economy.

Sometimes, this corporations have a strong power to negotiate with the state, and it is because we need a lot of capital in some very important business (as energy, telco and pharma). Imagine the relationship between a poor country and a oil company. Imagine that this poor country has a lot of oil or gas in its territory, but it lacks the capital needed to extract it. The company will negotiate using its strong power to get adventages, and this adventages include taxes exception and some other kinds of competition barriers. And competition is not easy since you need a lot of capital to enter the market, the big amount of capital needed behaves as a enter barrier to the market.

The invisible hand works where there is no single player with the power to influence the market by his own, and it is not ussually the case when the size of the company is relative big compared with the rest of the market. And as Adam Smith noted, the adventage the capital owners (or the employers) have over the employees (or the persons needing this capital to make a living) is that the former are few and a consensous is easier to achieve for them.

I don’t have any doubt that the blind watchmaker works in nature (BTW, very interesting relationship you brought between biology and economics), but I’d like to point out two things: first, the work of the evolution is cruel according to our moral standards ( at least according to my moral standards: I cannot accept child labour, for instance ) and second, in the biological blind watchmaker domain there is not a single player (a individue) with the power to destroy the entire environment.

Regarding the healtcare, I agree with you, we shouldn’t ban private system. Here we have both public and private services. The public service is free, unconfortable, and the public hospitals are not exactly nice places… and you have unconvenient schedules and a long wait list. The private services has levels of service, in the upper levels you don’t have wait list, you go to the doctor when you want, the private clinics are nice. But, at least in the big cities, noone needing medical care would die because lack of care. On the other hand.

I agree we need to reward the creation of new wealth if we want to improve our life standard, but sometimes the market fails to see the long term and beyond certain point the market is not able to recover itself (the 30 crackdown is a good example of this kind of situation, the most evitable tragedy in the history, as someones call it).

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Posted: 07 November 2007 04:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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From the wikipedia article on New Keynesianism (I would define myself as a new keynesian)

The main difference between these schools is that the New Keynesians assume wages and prices cannot be adjusted instantly

I think that there is a lot of evidence to support this claim, and it one of the strongest problems we face when we try to apply the classical economics models to reality. The companies adjust the production by quantity and not by price, because a lot of reasons:

-The employees represents (especially in some intelectual intensive activities) a valuable assets for the companies, they invest a lot of time and money trying to develop certains skills in their employees so they think twices before fire them.
-The people usually accept better a drop in their wage if it is by loosing purchase power than if it is by a drop in its nominal amount. Lets face it: we take better an inflation of 5% than a 5% drop in the nominal amount in our salary
-In some companies there are given prices in some things needed for the production (because are bought abroad) so it is impossible to adjust by price.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 08:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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Retrospy,

Sorry, my knowledge of economic theory is probably pretty rudimentary, so I’m not hip to the new/old Keynesian divide. All I meant, as Doug divined, was that I see an important role for government in setting ground rules for economic interation and providing a safety net, as opposed to the libertarian/laissez-faire position I was arguing against which see government as an impediment to the efficient functioning of the market. I did not mean to imply very specific positions on issues of monetary policy and such, as I’m not nearly sufficiently well-informed to have positions on these.

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Posted: 08 November 2007 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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FWIW, Paul Krugman is a New Keynsian.

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Posted: 08 November 2007 07:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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FWIW,

Milton Friedman was a Nobel laureate and libertarian
Alan Greenspan is a philosopher and libertarian

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Posted: 08 November 2007 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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FWIW,

I really like what I am reading about Mr. Krugman.

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Posted: 08 November 2007 11:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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retrospy - 08 November 2007 07:23 AM

Milton Friedman was a Nobel laureate and libertarian
Alan Greenspan is a philosopher and libertarian

I recently took an online political affiliation test that told me I was a libertarian.  LOL I also took a world view test that told me that I was a postmodernist.  LOL  LOL  I would have never seen those labels coming.  If I were to coin my own terms I would prefer the ring of “progressive post-postmodern rationalist.”  How does that ring?

IMO, there is an enormous difference between so called “social libertarianism” and “economic libertarianism.”  There is even something called libertarian socialism.  Would it make sense to place Alan Greenspan near that line of thinking?

Sometimes geo-political labels can be as misleading as labels about different categories of atheism.

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