Posts Tagged ‘libertarians’

There is absolutely no way this can end badly.

Shortly after announcing that he was reinventing The Blaze as a global libertarian news network, the Dallas Observer reports Glenn Beck announced “the next stage of his full-bodied embrace of libertarianism, which seems to be a massive commune inspired by ‘Galt’s Gulch,’ Ayn Rand’s utopian community in Atlas Shrugged.”


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Thanks to Citizens United, it is perfectly legal for your employer to tell you who to vote for, and its becoming increasingly common. Corey Robin has some examples. The entire piece is quite good, you should just go read it. He notes not only examples of companies exercising their “free speech” by telling their employees how they should vote, but of attempts to limit those employees own freedom of speech. Today, a recording of Mitt Romney encouraging employers to tell their employees how to vote was released.

This is coercion, plain and simple. It will no doubt be defended as an economic argument, They didn’t say vote or you’re fired, they said if the wrong guy wins the economy will go to hell and you’ll get laid off, and I suppose that is technically true. The coercive power, though, is the same. I am well aware that freedom of speech refers to the freedom from government reprisal, and I have often argued that freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. In this case though, I don’t believe freedom of speech holds up as a defense. Free elections are critical to a democracy. If we allow people in a position of power to threaten, either directly or implicitly, negative consequences for voting in a way they don’t like, then we do not have free elections. No one should have to be faced with the choice of voting their conscience or losing their job.

This is yet another consequence of inequality in America. Those with the means to lose their job will be able to ignore their employer and vote their conscience, those without those means will not. The typical “free markets” argument here goes that if you don’t like your company’s policy, you should quit. Companies that hold these noxious policies won’t be able to attract good employees and will fail, and so the problem will be resolved. That sounds fantastic in an economics classroom. In the real world, though, its horse shit. Some people, maybe even most people, may have the luxury to quit their job over a principled disagreement. There will remain many, though, who do not. For any number of reasons, there are quite a few people who simply cannot quit their job, regardless of what indignities or abuses they are subject to. The consequences, for them, would be worse than enduring. Perhaps they’ll lose their healthcare and be unable to get it back. Perhaps they simply can’t afford to miss a paycheck or perhaps they can’t leave town and have no other options locally. Whatever the case may be, quite a few people are at the mercy of their employer. If they are told to vote a certain way or lose their job, they will. Folks who support Citizens United on free speech grounds often talk about the coercive power of the State. But it seems like they are happy to ignore completely the coercive power of employers. For example:

the largest privately held coal company in the nation, Murray Energy, has routinely coerced its employees in to giving to GOP candidates. In the process, Murray Energy workers became the second largest block of donors to Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s 2009-2010 coffers. “We have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts,” wrote company CEO Robert Murray in a March 2012 letter to employees obtained by The New Republic; attached was a list of employees who had not yet attended fundraisers.

September 2010 letter lamenting insufficient contributions to the company PAC is more pointed. “The response to this letter of appeal has been poor,” Murray writes. “We have only a little over a month left to go in this election fight. If we do not win it, the coal industry will be eliminated and so will your job, if you want to remain in this industry.”

We cannot allow people to be coerced into voting a certain way. That’s not freedom. Say what you will about the rest of Citizens United, but it absolutely must not ever be legal for an employer to attempt to coerce an employees vote. This is about as far from freedom and democracy as can be, and it is supported by the Supreme Court Of The United States.

Corporations are people too, my friend. Actual people, on the other hand, can fuck off.

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“Gary Johnson: Be Libertarian With Me”

Are libertarians fundamentally opposed to decent copy writing?

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Rand Paul does not understand basic facts about the American economy as it exists today. Paul Krugman hilariously informs him.

PAUL: The thing I don’t understand is that you’re arguing that the government sector is struggling. Are you arguing that there are fewer government employees under Obama than there were under Bush?

KRUGMAN: Of course. That’s a fact. That’s a tremendous fact.

PAUL: No, the size of growth of government is enormous under President Obama.

KRUGMAN: If government employment had grown as fast under Obama as it did under Bush, we’d have a million and a half more people employed right now —directly.

PAUL: Are there less people employed or more people employed now by government?

ThinkProgress has the video. Its a lot of fun to watch the fantasy world these people have built for themselves come crashing down around them. This isn’t rocket science.

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Two replies to my earlier post are here and here. Original post is here.

First off, Jastonite takes my examples of limitations on freedom for the sake of protecting freedom, and flips them around:

It is not that I have a right to clean water, it is that my neighbor has no right to put anything in my water.  My neighbor has no right to my property.  The general principal, which Rand Paul articulates, is that rights do not extend to infringe on the rights of others.  I cannot drive my car however I please on a road, not because people also have a right to walk on that road, but because I have no right to operate a vehicle on property that is not mine.

Two things. First, that I have no right to someone else’s property. Well, I agree. So I have no right to tell you that you aren’t allowed to dump toxic waste on your property. But you have no right to my property, upon which your waste will infringe. We can twist these around all day, I’m not certain that it really changes anything about my original point. Secondly, be careful with the statement I’ve put in bold. Can it not be extended to I cannot wear a blue shirt on a sidewalk, not because people also have a right to wear a red shirt on that sidewalk, but because I have no right to wear blue on property that is not mine. Now that’s an admittedly very stupid analogy, but the argument is ripe for slippery slopes. Also, it’s worth pointing out that the guy in the red shirt dies every damn time, so take that under advisement.


A business owner turning somebody away from his business infringes on nobody’s rights (unless we accept that people have a right to the property of others); however, preventing a business owner from turning somebody away from his business does infringe on his right to property.

For the record, I absolutely agree that the Civil Rights Act infringes upon a business owners right to run his business as he sees fit, but that does not mean we have the right to the property of others. I simply think that in some cases infringement on people’s rights is needed for society to function, as I explained initially. It’s all about tradeoffs. You may not find my argument satisfactory, but that’s OK. It remains my point. And yes, I recognize that you could use this as a precedent to ban people from wearing their blue shirt because the color blue is disruptive to society, etc, etc. We’re back to limiting principles now, and I have a feeling readers will already know where we all stand on that.


I get frustrated with statements like “Rand Paul thinks the CRA is a mistake…” because it misrepresents both him and his argument. Why say it?  Why not say “Rand Paul disagrees with one aspect of the CRA…” or “Rand Paul supports the CRA except for…”

Well, OK, but we’re arguing semantics. The point of the Civil Rights Act was to protect against discrimination, so I suppose I should have stated that Rand Paul supports the Civil Rights Act except for the parts where it protects against discrimination. Or something.

A reader reads the sentence and sees that “Paul thinks the CRA is a mistake.” They have already been biased against the part of the sentence that states Paul’s actual position. Paul thinks the CRA is a mistake?!?! How can he think that? In what way does he think the CRA is a mistake? Oh, he doesn’t think businesses should be forced to integrate. Wow, what a complete D-bag. I hate people who are so caught up in the notion of freedom that they would bring back segregation and slavery. FAIL.

That’s one hell of a logic leap, and not at all what I meant to imply. I, in fact, meant to imply nothing. But obviously you could read the sentence in that way and so for that I guess I was remiss.

Again, we can go in circles with all of this all day, but this gives me an opportunity to bring up a complaint I have with libertarianism. Perhaps less of a complaint than a vague idea in the back of my brain. I am probably (definitely) not articulating this nearly as well as I would like but here goes. Libertarianism seeks to strongly protect personal freedom. But many of the views libertarians hold lead to policies with the outcome of less freedom. Those views may be internally consistent, but the freedom is theoretical whereas the policy outcomes are real. Take the example Amused (whose blog you should read) mentioned in her comment on my original post about restricting a woman’s medical rights. The problem, I think, lies in the fact that libertarian arguments about policy are rarely about the actual policy, but rather based on some ideological first principle. A policy discussion thus quickly evolves (devolves?) into a lofty discussion of political philosophy. I enjoy a discussion about political philosophy (why else am I writing this?) but it tends to abstract away the actual impact and details of policy. Missing the trees for the forest, you could say. The result is often that libertarianism is against some detailed policy because it violates their principles. But how would libertarians address the policy problem? We don’t know, because they seem content to point out that others’ solutions are wrong without articulating solutions of their own. Or when they are articulated, they tend to be in the abstract realm of political philosophy. I’m well aware that this is not unique to libertarians, but that’s where I notice it the most.

Simply put, libertarians spend a lot of time on philosophy, but little on actual governance. Ron Paul may be known as Dr. No on capital hill, but we don’t need someone to just point out why we’re wrong. We need someone to propose policy to deal with real problems that impact real people’s every day lives.

Philosophy is of course important, but it isn’t the whole of governance.


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The Gravel Kraken yesterday called out Rachel Maddow for trying to force Rand Paul into a gotcha quote, and defended his controversial views. Rand Paul seems to believe that the civil rights act was a mistake because it infringes upon business owners’ right to be racist assholes. Thats fine, and no I don’t think this proves Rand Paul is himself a racist asshole, but I strongly disagree with him. So I should explain why.

It is simply not the case that everyone can exercise their freedom all the time, because your freedom may infringe upon mine. My freedom to walk safely to work would be infringed upon by your freedom to drive your car in any way you see fit, and so we’ve limited your freedom with traffic lights and speed limits, and mine with crosswalks. Your freedom to dispose of toxic waste in your back yard infringes upon my freedom to have clean water from my well, and so neither of us are allowed to dispose of toxic waste in our back yards, even though this infringes upon our property rights. Similarly, the fine particulate emissions from your car will drift onto my property and pollute it, and so you are violating my property rights. But we recognize the importance of both my property rights and yours (the operation of your car) so we limit pollution to an amount above zero by enforcing emissions standards, thus protecting your right to drive while limiting to an acceptable level the impact on me.

If we want to live in an equal society, then everyone’s rights ought to be protected. That will involve tradeoffs. In some cases, yes, my freedom will by necessity be reduced in order for yours to be preserved. It just isn’t the case that we can both exercise all our rights and freedoms all of the time, because we will infringe upon one another (this is especially true in cities, hence you often see stronger regulations than in rural areas). But both of our rights and freedoms are equally important, and so it becomes neccesary for us, as a society, to decide where the line between our rights ought to be drawn. We do that through government with things like traffic laws, environmental regulations, and the civil rights act.

Now to be fair, I suppose its possible that Rand Paul may agree with that (though I would be surprised), and simply believes that in the case of the CRA we drew the line too far to one side. That’s a reasonable disagreement, and an important discussion to have. If we are going to draw these lines (and I believe we must if we want to have an equal society) we need to be able to discuss them honestly and in good faith.

But there’s precious little of that these days.

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New York City wants to ban the sale of 16 oz sodas. The Gravel Kraken writes:

This is tyranny.  Obesity may be a nationwide problem, but it is not a government problem.  Even accepting the premise that “too much sugar is bad for people, and a free people cannot be trusted to regulate their own sugar intake” the proposed regulation doesn’t make sense.  Free refills will still be allowed, there is no limit on number of 16 ounce drinks that can be sold at one, and grocery stores will still be allowed to sell sugary drinks at whatever size they please.  Keep in mind that the standard, single-serving soda bottle contains 20 ounces of soda.

This is just insulting and a waste of everybody’s time.

I agree that this ban is a dumb idea. I agree that it’s insulting and a waste of everyone’s time. I agree that it’s pointless, and I agree it shouldn’t be enacted. But it is not tyranny. Governments can do a lot of terrible things, and many of them do. Tyranny is very real and causes a lot of harm and suffering to a lot of people around the world. Making it slightly less convenient to drink 16 oz of Cherry Coke is not tyranny, it’s just annoying. The word tyranny is thrown around so much by libertarians that I’m beginning to think really it’s stopped describing actual tyranny and instead just means “things the government does that I think it shouldn’t”.

When we see tyranny, we should point it out. And we should combat it. But this is not tyranny. This is a dumb, pointless regulation. And we should combat it too, but lets try to stop crying wolf.

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