Saturday, December 14, 2013

Maybe I was too subtle in that last post...

Bob Murphy commented:
"Obviously there are no IUCs possible, but to the extent that we operationalize "who cares more about liberty?" I don't even see how this can be close. I just scrolled through your blog and in the first 3 pages, the only mention I see you making of liberty is to mock/criticize the people who have devoted their lives to defending it. And it's not "Hey guys I strategically disagree with your wonderful aims" but rather "I think these guys are either naive or lying."

Look, I clearly don't care as much about racial bigotry as people working at the NAACP. That doesn't mean I'm a racist or that I hate black people, it just means it's clearly not as high a priority to me as to them.

By the same token, you clearly care more about economic theory and your kid than liberty. In contrast, I care about liberty, Krugman, and karaoke.

None of this is a judgment, and I'm not saying you're a closet totalitarian, but I can't believe you're acting as if you and your social network care as much about "liberty" as the people I know who do things like move their families to a different state etc. for it."
Here's the thing - I don't (and I think most people don't) look at Bob Murphy, fantastic guy that I think he is, and think "there's a man that's devoted his life to defending liberty". We look at him and think "there's a guy that's devoted his life to fighting the state". And maybe he's OK with that and thinks the two are synonymous, but what he and other libertarians need to recognize is that it's not just that we think the second one (that he devotes himself to fighting the state), but we do not think the first one accurately describes him.

If you are suspicious of Abraham Lincoln, you are going to have a hard time convincing me you care more about liberty than me.

If you are suspicious of the Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination, you are going to have a very hard time convincing me you care more about liberty than me.

If you are a pacifist in the face of fascism that threatens the liberty of millions, you are going to have a very hard time convincing me you care more about liberty than me.

And this doesn't even get into the much trickier questions about the tangled net of positive and negative liberty that we're faced with when past inequalities of opportunity generate present inequalities of outcomes. But if you scoff at that as a problem you're going to have a very, very, hard time convincing me you care more about liberty than me.

Which makes me wonder if Bob is in the na├»ve/ignorant camp more so than I thought. It's one thing to disagree with me. That's allowed. I know he holds a different view and I've always known that and I disagree with him. But he doesn't even seem to be aware of the issue.

26 comments:

  1. I'll leave one last comment because otherwise we're going to get mad at each other: The only one of my positions you listed that makes any sense to me is the pacifism one, since that would rule out a person voluntarily using violence to protect someone else's liberty. But all the other ones make no sense and involve a perversion of the term "liberty."

    It sounds to me like you want to be able to say something like, "The way I read the literature, a small increase in the minimum wage would boost the income of poor people without causing problems for employers. Hence, I support a modest increase precisely because this would increase liberty."

    If *that*'s the way you're using the word, then it has been stripped of all meaning. Everybody on planet Earth is a huge proponent of liberty. Every conceivable political action can be justified as increasing liberty on net.

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    1. Well right that's the source of the entire disagreement - who is perverting the term "liberty".

      That's not entirely right - it's not the ONLY source of disagreement. Sometimes I'd agree that something reduces liberty, but if it accomplishes removing a greater infringement on liberty then I think people devoting their life to liberty should support it. We may disagree on the premises or logic of that argument too.

      On its face the minimum wage reduces liberty. And as you know I'm not a big fan of it. But there are a lot of violations of liberty that have been institutionalized and passed down from generation to generation so it's more complicated. I wouldn't make the case.

      To take a simpler case, I think it's very plausible to argue that reparations for slavery funded by a tax can be justified by devotion to liberty. Opposition to that might be pro-practicality, pro-existing-property-rights-distribution, or anti-state, but the case that it is pro-liberty is fairly weak.

      Insofar as I oppose explicit reparations (and I am on the fence), it's a pro-practicality and pro-existing-property-rights-distribution opposition.

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  2. These days I describe myself as a Tory Anarchist, I do that mostly to annoy people.

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  3. Daniel, the term "liberty" is always used with respect to rights. Since you have no theory of rights, or at least you don't have a consistent theory of rights, it is no wonder that you are so confused on the usage of the word "liberty" and its implications to the real world of events.

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  4. I don't (and I think most people don't) look at Daniel Kuehn, fantastic guy that I think he is, and think "there's a man that's devoted his life to defending liberty". We look at him and think "there's a guy that's devoted his life to trolling libertarians." (I kid, don't bite my head off)

    Joking aside, may I ask: what is your objective in attacking libertarians so often? Are they so hugely influential that they need to be suppressed at all costs? Do libertarians have more of a negative impact than, say, the Tea Party?

    From a Wisdom of Crowds POV, don't we at least need a few libertarian voices (and Marxist voices, for that matter) to get a balanced "portfolio" of ideologies?

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    1. I don't think I attack libertarians do I?

      This blog covers two things: economics and political ideology. A lot of what I have to say about libertarianism deals with its relation to other ideologies (left liberalism particularly), how it relates to economics, and how it relates to more fundamental concepts that I'm interested in. I don't think I attack libertarianism or else much, much fewer libertarians would be as nice to me as they are, and I wouldn't be on a friendly relationship with as many as I am.

      What I think you mean is that when I talk about political ideology, and when libertarianism comes up you don't like my conclusions. And instead of just disagreeing with my conclusions you seem to regularly characterize it as "trolling" or "attacking.

      That's weak.

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    2. re: "From a Wisdom of Crowds POV, don't we at least need a few libertarian voices (and Marxist voices, for that matter) to get a balanced "portfolio" of ideologies?"

      Sure - when it comes to economics or political ideology I'm nothing if not a pluralist. Why do you think I'm on such good terms with Post Keynesians, mainstreamers, and Austrians alike? Why am I on such good terms with liberals and libertarians alike (I have to say I'm not sure of what goes on in the conservative blogosphere)? Why did I just publish an article on two big arguments from Hayek saying one was right and one was wrong?

      You are preaching to the choir, my friend.

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  5. Do you attack libertarians? If you say you don't, I can only take you at your word, but it was just a vague feeling I've had over the last half year or so. Whenever I saw a post re: libertarianism, or a random comment on some other blog, more often than not there seemed to be a slight, but noticeable, hostility/condescension, not just mere disagreement. But I guess I was wrong. (Do I regularly accuse you of trolling or attacking? Sorry about that, I try to avoid inflammatory language).

    A question re: the whole "liberty movement" thing--if you could express the value that's most important to you in one word, what would it be?

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  6. Don't you realize liberty is a sacred endowment libertarians obtained directly from their creator? Along with property. Any other use is sacrilegious.

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  7. Daniel, as I understand it, you object to the Libertarians claiming the right to define "liberty" and then claiming to be the champions of "liberty" - they are trying to set up a false choice for the rest of us.

    The word "liberty" belongs to all of us. If Libertarians respected property rights they would not try to appropriate it for themselves that way.

    You are generally much too soft on the Libertarians. As a group they seem to be profoundly alienated individuals promoting policies that rationalize their own alienation and which, if implemented, would increase alienation among others. It is an evil, vicious doctrine that should be stomped out.

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    1. By "stomped out" I mean ridiculed and laughed off the stage of public discourse among the grown ups. Drive it back to sophomore seminars where it belongs.

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    2. Well "object to claiming the right" is probably a little strong. But I think you're right on target when you say they are setting up a false choice.

      And more than anything I think it says something about the thinking of the people that use the phrase "liberty movement".

      I don't think the rest of us go around thinking that libertarians are the ones keeping an eye on our freedom, so there's nothing really to complain about. It's more just an interesting question about how libertarians who use that term perceive themselves.

      Of course there is no doubt whatsoever that libertarians care about liberty. So there's no question about use of the term. It's the implications of the phrase "liberty movement" that I find interesting.

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    3. "It is an evil, vicious doctrine that should be stomped out. "

      Evil and vicious if implemented - likely. But as an idea that a minority holds in dialogue with other ideas I think this is a little extreme (probably not surprising to you since you think I'm soft on them!). It's very hard for me to attack the ideas in this way as opposed to the policies because they are so close to other strands of liberalism. For that reason, I think critiques have to be more surgical and less stomping.

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    4. "Evil and vicious if implemented - likely." You see Daniel, there is the difference between us. You are young and in an academic environment. That is where Libertarianism belongs. I am old and self employed and for me economics and politics are not just intellectual toys. I care a great deal about the practical consequences of policy. If Libertarianism is just an attempt to move the Overton Window then the sensible counter strategy is to attack it head on as "evil and vicious if implemented" and take it out of the real world discussion. (You academics can debate fairy tales all day if you want - I don't - that is why I went to law school instead of grad school.)

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    5. "The word "liberty" belongs to all of us. If Libertarians respected property rights they would not try to appropriate it for themselves that way."

      Words can't be appropriated; they are not scarce physical objects. Talk about "false choices".

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  8. Your complaint doesn't make much sense. People like Bob and myself care a lot about something which we tend to call "liberty". It's what we call it when we talk about it with each other. It's what we call it when we talk about it with other people. It's what we call it when we lay awake at night wondering WWMD. (What Would Mises Do?) Not only that, but that conception of liberty is the core of our philosophy. So obviously we're going to use the term "liberty" when naming ourselves. The opposite would be really strange. The only way in which your complaint makes sense is if we've perverted the term "liberty" so much as to make it completely unrecognizable from the term in common usage.

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    1. But it demonstrates a lack of awareness of the broader status of your claims (or an awareness and an opportunism).

      It's not a question of you using the word "liberty" - it's a question of describe libertarianism as "the liberty movement" that's odd to apparently everybody but libertarians (I used to think more libertarians realized how odd this was but I'm wondering if that was wrong on my part).

      When I challenge the idea that Bob cares more about liberty than I do clearly I'm not arguing that he doesn't care about liberty.

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    2. But Bob really does care more about that thing he calls "liberty" than you do. You just don't call that thing "liberty". You call it anti-statism. Given your view of what liberty is, you probably care way more about that thing you call "liberty" than Bob does. It's neither lack of awareness nor opportunism. It's more that we don't care that you would parse the term "the liberty movement" differently than we do. Obviously, many groups are going to adopt such a charged word as "liberty" and it should be obvious to anybody reading the phrase "the liberty movement" that plugging in their own precise definition of what "liberty" means is unlikely to yield the exact meaning intended by people in that movement. In the same way that if I plug in my own view of what "progressive" means when I hear people call themselves "progressive", I'm unlikely to actually understand what they mean.

      Unless your complaint is about the use of the word "the" because we aren't the only movement with a claim to that name. But if that's the case, I'd argue it's because we define ourselves primarily as "the liberty movement" as opposed to other movements who have other names for themselves.

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  9. "People like Bob and myself care a lot about something which we tend to call "liberty". It's what we call it when we talk about it with each other. It's what we call it when we talk about it with other people."

    But what you call liberty is simply 'an expanded definitioin of property rights'. Calling it 'liberty' is just a gimmick.

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    1. Exactly. "Liberty Movement" is gimmicky.

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    2. Giving libertarians tactical advice now? That's actually quite nice of you.

      There's a book by libertarian Walter Block called "Defending The Undefendable" in which he lists many unsavoury activities which libertarians regard as permissible (legally speaking) e.g blackmail, prostitution, selling narcotics etc. I'm fairly certain Daniel would be happy with a state which punished people for engaging in many of these activities. Unlike Bob Murphy.

      Unless D.K argues that these activities actually impose costs on other people, and therefore should be banned, he is less interested in liberty than Bob Murphy.

      Are there activities which impose no costs on others (eg a neg externality) but which D.K thinks the state should forbid and punish anyway? If so his claim to be a "guy that thinks and cares about human liberty" starts to look a little strange.

      P.S Isn't it a little odd that no-one considers D.K to be a proponent of liberty? Is it just successful marketing by Murphy and others to have won the "liberty" label? If so, they must be truly amazing! If we took a poll of those familiar with D.K and Murphy I'm confident they'd all say "D.K believes in a stronger role for government than Murphy". More government = more liberty?

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  10. Here's a good way to sum things up - when libertarians talk about "liberty" it sounds to my ears a lot like when Bush talks about "freedom". He's not anti-freedom but it's clearly a way of framing his views that non-conservatives snicker at but which presents them in the best light as he sees it.

    When Bob talks about liberty I feel about the same as I do when Bush talks about freedom. And I've always imagined he's felt the same way about me. But then I don't claim to be a part of "the liberty movement". I just claim to be a guy that thinks about and cares about human liberty.

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  11. One question i have with your post is when you mention Bob you say " We look at him and think there's a guy that's devoted his life to fighting the state." then a few lines later you say:
    "If you are suspicious of Abraham Lincoln, you are going to have a hard time convincing me you care more about liberty than me. If you are suspicious of the Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination, you are going to have a very hard time convincing me you care more about liberty than me." My question: essentially isn't the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Act the taking away the state's power to enforce slavery and civil rights discrimination? If you say Lincoln is someone that is for liberty and advanced liberty didn't he take away some power of the state, something that you say Bob fights for? Wasn't segregation something that had to be enforced by the state? I mean libertarians may disagree with the results of the Civil Rights Act but the intention behind the Civil Rights Act was to stop enforced discrimination. In a free market, the argument goes, if a a store is practicing discriminatory policies the customer just as to go somewhere else that doesn't discriminate, but back when segregation and other discriminatory practices were around the government forced everyone to discriminate and segregate. Government with more power created less liberty, government with less power created more liberty (in those cases).

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    1. ""If you are suspicious of Abraham Lincoln, you are going to have a hard time convincing me you care more about liberty than me."

      Daniel is the most reasonable person I have ever found whose views differ wholly from mine. But this statement is extraordinary - I'm actually a little depressed now after reading it.

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  13. Daniel cares about liberty! I suppose we'll just have to take his word for it, given that no evidence for the claim can be found in his regular blog posts. I believe that D.K sincerely cares about liberty. I take him at his word. It's just that nothing he ever says suggests it. Then he'll get annoyed at libertarians every once in a while and say "how dare you claim to more pro-liberty than me!"

    Sorry, you can't have it both ways.

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