Friday, October 05, 2007

Ontario election follow-up.

Well, there's some movement on my previous complaints about candidates in my riding. David Zimmer (incumbent Lib) still has no policies whatsover. David Shiner (PC) has come out of the closet as one of the brilliant minds that voted down actually using Toronto's new revenue-generating powers to, oh, say, improve transit, fix roads, and keep the damn city running. So, "no" to both of them.

Kristin Monster (Family Coalition) is living up to her name (see here). Anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage? Classy.

Heath Thomas (see here) is living in a typically delusional libertarian fantasy world. I note with interest that, while he's all for reducing the size of government, he has no apparent interest in the massive redistribution of wealth that would be necessitated by a thoroughgoing libertarianism. (Think of it as a giant reset button, fixing all the illegitimate wealth transfers that had gone before.) It's honestly difficult (although, not impossible) to find libertarians who are willing to bite that bullet, so I'm not surprised.

Rini Ghosh (NDP) has no information whatsoever about what she'd do if elected. If you think I'm wrong, go find it here.

And I still have no idea who Charles Sutherland (Independent) is. Charles? Are you out there, anywhere? Helllooooo....? Do you know you're running for office?

However. Torbjorn Zetterlund (Green) has impressed me. He's got a decent summary of policy positions here, done in a faked question-and-answer format. I don't seriously disagree with anything he's for. I think what he stands for is quite workable. I also think it could benefit the riding as well as the province more generally.

Here's the Cliff's Notes:
  • Increased minimum wage
  • Guaranteed basic housing and nutrition
  • Universal denticare
  • Increased ability for municipalities to generate needed revenue
  • Provincial spending on transit
  • Increased support and incentives for health clinics and preventative health measures
  • Picking up school funding at the provincial level
  • No spending on environmental issues, per se, but targetted tax incentives to encourage consumers and businesses to change their behaviours
  • Tax incentives to encourage development of jobs in new industries
  • Reducing energy demand through conservation technologies
  • Reducing income and business taxes, while increasing consumption taxes
I'm not totally sold on the last two. See here regarding energy policy. The whole income vs. consumption taxes thing seems, to me, to have the potential to punish the poor disproportionately. It depends on what consumables are taxed -- a high tax on food, for example, would kick the poor in the teeth (as they spend proportionally more of their income on food than the rich), but a high tax on, say, luxury cars would be fine. But the rest works for me.

So, it looks like I'm voting Green, in addition to voting for MMP. Still, how long did it take the Green Party to actually put up some freakin' information! Jesus. They almost lost a vote.

23 comments:

Ron said...

I note with interest that [Heath Thomas], while he's all for reducing the size of government...has no apparent interest in the massive redistribution of wealth that would be necessitated by a thoroughgoing libertarianism. (Think of it as a giant reset button, fixing all the illegitimate wealth transfers that had gone before.)

Where did you ever get the idea that libertarianism neccesitates the "fixing" of all the illegitimate wealth transfers that have gone before by massive redistribution of wealth?

The only folks that attempt that are socialists/collectivists, usually of the Mugabe/Chavez variants.

And I notice that your "Cliff's Notes" on the Green candidate has at least five instances of direct wealth redistribution listed. So I gather you're not against coerced wealth distribution in principle anyways. Is your quarrel with the libertarians, then, that they won't do it?

ADHR said...

Where did you ever get the idea that libertarianism neccesitates the "fixing" of all the illegitimate wealth transfers that have gone before by massive redistribution of wealth?

Bob Nozick.

It follows from the basic libertarian emphasis on private property and negative liberty. If my property is my own (through a just acquisition) and no one may interfere with it without my consent (i.e., it may only leave me through just transfers), then there must be rectification for the cases in which my property has been illegitimately taken from me. Since most societies on the historical record have been non-libertarian, it follows that, from the libertarian perspective, much of the current distribution of wealth came about due to illegitimate transfers: progressive taxation, welfare programs, corporate tax breaks, and so on and so forth.

Thus, the current distribution must be rectified. But, given that it's incredibly difficult to figure out how much of anyone's current wealth they are entitled to and how much they are not, the easiest way to address the problem is just to reset everything to square one. No more redistributions would be justified after that except when there were clear cases of illegitimate transfer. Anything less -- except if there's some practical way to separate the legitimate from illegitimate historical transfers -- than this makes appeals to "liberty" vacuous. "Liberty" is just a coded way of protecting the current distribution of wealth and privilege, regardless of whether those who hold them deserve to.

Guys like Heath Thomas fall into this category. They are, it seems, more interested in protecting their own level of wealth and privilege, regardless of how they obtained it. This isn't any sort of libertarianism any more; the only "libertarians" that endorse it are those who follow Rand and her ilk. And Randianism is really a form of naturalized aristocracy or oligarchy. The rhetorical emphasis on personal liberty is vacuous; she doesn't mean it because she doesn't take it seriously when it comes to other people's liberty. She wants to use the word "liberty" as a pseudojustification for her own wealth and basic selfishness.

And I notice that your "Cliff's Notes" on the Green candidate has at least five instances of direct wealth redistribution listed. So I gather you're not against coerced wealth distribution in principle anyways. Is your quarrel with the libertarians, then, that they won't do it?

Five instances of "direct wealth redistribution"? I don't see any instances of such redistribution. In principle, though, there's nothing I can see wrong with redistributing wealth. And, as said, a thoroughgoing libertarian has to allow for some redistributions, in the cases where the distribution resulted from an unjust transfer (such as theft). So, the issue isn't whether redistributions are justified at all, but why and when.

As far as I'm concerned, if there's a public good at stake, there's a prima facie justification for redistribution.

Ron said...

I'm at work, so more later, but fair enough, Nozick did suggest exactly what you state.

Ron said...

...still at work...

Five instances:

1) Increased minimum wage

2) Guaranteed basic housing and nutrition

3) Universal denticare

4) Increased ability for municipalities to generate needed revenue [I probably shouldn't count this, as it only points to an increased ability to redistribute income, and implies the willingness/intent]

5) Provincial spending on transit

6) Increased support and incentives for health clinics and preventative health measures [qalthough not specific, let's assume "support" means more money, from some folks to other folks)

...so 5, or 4 if you wish, but still...

if money is taken by the government from some folks and provided to others, that's direct income redistribution, minus a few handling charges, of course.

Ron said...

...and maybe I confused things by saying *direct* wealth redistribution. It would have been more accurate had I said explicit wealth redistribution.

As an aside, I was impressed with your overview of energy sources and costs [Energy-generation: Conclusions.] Good work.

Ron said...

from home:

Adam (now that I have some time to think things through),

I'm not sure why you suggest that a massive redistribution of wealth, "fixing all the illegitimate wealth transfers that came before" would be necessary for libertarianism. You stated that "Liberty" is just a coded way of protecting the current distribution of wealth and privilege, regardless of whether those who hold them deserve to.

I don't see it that way at all, if what we mean by "liberty" in this context is laizzez-faire capitalism. My thinking would be that full LFC would very much not protect the current distribution of wealth and privilege, given that huge numbers of large industrialists, for example, have wealth and power precisely because of government intervention in their favour (e.g. subsidies, licencing protections, tariffs, etc). The same can be said for people who have power and/or wealth due to various NGO or government agencies that exist in a State protected environment.

ADHR said...

I'll go along with explicit, although I would say that "wealth redistribution" is a bit misleading. It implies that the wealth wasn't the public's to begin with. As I intimated in earlier discussions, though, I think some of what individuals seem to possess in terms of wealth is actually owned by the collective.

Thanks re: the energy sources series. I tried to make that as complete as I could, given generally inadequate information, especially re: costs of construction of various kinds of plants. I think I did show, though, the emptiness of anti-nuclear rhetoric. It's not a perfect system, but it's no ecological or economic disaster.

The massive redistribution of wealth is needed because the current distribution did not come about through just acquisitions or just transfers. I think we agree that libertarians have to accept the second part of the claim regarding the origins of the current distribution. We may just be disagreeing about methods to effect the needed rectification. I'm claiming that there would need to be a centrally managed redistribution in order to ensure that things were quickly and efficiently set to a just allocation. You seem to be claiming that removing market regulations would work just as well.

Given that controlling large amounts of wealth has a distorting effect on market mechanisms, though, I don't share that confidence. Regardless of the levels of subsidies, etc. that the wealthy are granted by government, the mere fact that they control a large quantity of wealth will give them a certain amount of influence over a free market. So, I suspect such a freeing-up of the market would fail to significantly impact the current levels of wealth distribution.

Furthermore, if the wealth is not legitimately owned, then the influence is not legitimate, either. So, there's a second problem of justice under the surface. Not only would the market be distorted by the influence of this accumulation of wealth, but the mere fact that this influence exists is unjust. To undo that injustice would seem to require a one-time, once-off reset.

Ron said...

You seem to be claiming that removing market regulations would work just as well.

I’m claiming that free market redistribution would work better, and only one of the reasons is because I think it would work slower.

I don’t see the state as anywhere near equipped to achieve a just and quick redistribution, and I don’t see how it can be assumed a state ever will be. For a detailed description of why, start with a thorough investigation of Mises' praxeology, but in any case:

I think it a near certainty that any quick large scale redistribution, no matter how just as seen by the perpetrators, will always result in variants of the kinds of chaos we’ve seen any time it’s been tried. Use Mugabe as a recent example for one set of possible results, view the situation of the kulaks under Stalin for a second set, and, say, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and the Yugoslav conflicts of the 80s and 90s as additional sets. Oh, heck, throw in Israel relative to the Palestinians or Mao’s cultural revolution. All of these attempts at quick redistribution resulted in fairly large scale anger, resentment and rebellion, and the consequent fostering of large state mechanisms (secret police, death squads, domestic armies etc) to fight them. These situations were almost all the result of explicit attempts to quickly redress historic wrongs by redistributing wealth and power by fiat. The other thing is that, these days and given modern communications and weapons tech, even a relatively small band of highly motivated discontents can effectively disrupt the state (or numerous states) at all levels up to the international.


Given that controlling large amounts of wealth has a distorting effect on market mechanisms, though, I don't share that confidence.

First, concentrations of wealth are not a distortion of free market mechanisms; they are merely one aspect of them. There is nothing inherently wrong with unequal wealth anyways. I have no idea why Britney Spears, Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, Wayne Gretsky, BC Bud, Rex Humbard and Pat Robertson are valued so highly by so many folks, but I also have no quarrel with it since they don’t make me pay ‘em anything…not even attention. Bill Gates I understand much better, but I have to tell you, regardless of whatever so-called anti-competetive actions he may have taken, I’ve always made way more money offa his contributions than he ever has for mine. And as far as my boss goes: if I didn’t think my needs were best addressed by working for him, the only agency that could stop me from making a leap is a government edict, backed by guns.

The distortions of wealth and power that I see as contemptible to the point of needing immediate redress are always politically based concentrations, the plunder of dictators, hyper-nationalists and other true-believer charismatists (if that’s a word). I rest comfortably assured that the mere freeing of market forces would result in consequences for these people that are more humane, less abrupt, more ethically sound and certainly less widely disruptive than any alternative plans I might have.



… So, I suspect such a freeing-up of the market would fail to significantly impact the current levels of wealth distribution.

Really? Can you name a single monopoly that you would describe as coercive that doesn’t maintain its power (fiat, economic or both) explicitly through the protections and other advantages provided by the State? I think freeing up the market would absolutely impact the current levels of wealth distribution.

ADHR said...

I’m claiming that free market redistribution would work better, and only one of the reasons is because I think it would work slower.

You mean the state would be slower, right? That's what I'm assuming you mean, otherwise I'm not seeing why slow is a good thing. After all, slow implies that injustice persists for longer, when the idea should surely be to reduce injustice as quickly as possible.

You've read some of the more philosophical entries on this blog, right? I do philosophy of action, and I've got a developed view of action which goes against praxeology, at least as described by Wikipedia. The view seems undermined by recent psychology, as well as by ancient (Aristotelian, principally) psychology -- which, for what it's worth, has some interesting commonalities with recent psychology. Praxeology is an oddly Cartesian sort of view, really; the idea that there are two faculties of the mind (reason and will are the usual names), and reason (which believes and knows) is subject to the will (which wants and desires). Given that the article refers to Kant as an inspiration (but, then again, maybe Kant's inspiration was negative?), this is an odd move for Mises to take. Kant's view of psychology was much richer than this -- for one thing, Kant allowed for (indeed, required) the possibility of actions which actually make one unhappier.

I'm also not seeing the connection between praxeology and state redistribution. I think part of the problem may be that you're assuming a state redistribution has to follow the Maoist sort of model -- take the property of the imperialist dogs and give it to the glorious revolutionaries, etc. That doesn't necessarily follow. Once the state has figured out that redistribution is necessary, one way to effect it certainly is mass property seizure. Instituting massive public welfare programs is another, though: take, through taxes, the wealth that isn't deserved and invest it in social goods that bring everyone up to an even playing field. Then back off and let the market reign (per libertarian principles). Since this benefits most, and harms only a few (and, really, they aren't being harmed, as they don't deserve what they're losing), the problems of instability don't seem to arise. This sort of process could even be staggered and proceed in stages, in order to further minimize the number of persons who lose wealth at any given point in the process.

First, concentrations of wealth are not a distortion of free market mechanisms; they are merely one aspect of them. There is nothing inherently wrong with unequal wealth anyways.

I didn't say wealth is a distortion of a market; I said wealth distorts a market. Members of a market system who control more wealth than others are able to exert more influence over the operations of that system -- that's pretty much what wealth does for you. The problem, for libertarians, isn't the presence of mass wealth per se; that's obvious. The problem is that much of the wealth is distributed in a way that is unjust. Thus, the influence the wealth exerts on the market is also unjust.

So, I suspect such a freeing-up of the market would fail to significantly impact the current levels of wealth distribution.

Really? Can you name a single monopoly that you would describe as coercive that doesn’t maintain its power (fiat, economic or both) explicitly through the protections and other advantages provided by the State? I think freeing up the market would absolutely impact the current levels of wealth distribution.


I'm missing something. Why are monopolies relevant?

In any event, that power is maintained through state protection doesn't imply that the power can't be maintained through exertion of the influence of wealth. And that's my view: the fact that some people control a lot of wealth -- wealth which, from the libertarian perspective, they don't deserve -- will allow them to maintain control over much of that wealth, even if the market is opened up. Since the possession of the wealth is unjust, allowing them to maintain their wealth is an injustice.

Ron said...

adam: it may be helpful if you took the time to examine two shorter works of Mises so you understand where I'm coming from on this (based on your implied query "not seeing the connection between praxeology and state redistribution"). As it happens, I am not "assuming a state redistribution has to follow the Maoist sort of model" although my extreme examples could certainly have led you that conclusion.

The first is: Part III Science and Value from Epistomological Problems of Economics, and the second is his The Impossibility of Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth.

I understand that I'm asking a lot of you, but my hope is that 1)you might find it helpful in reference to your own work, and 2) you understand that I don't know how to better or more succinctly explain the two aspects I think are relevant to your query about the connection between praxeology and state redistribution.

I don't think the Wikipedia article is all that helpful at this level of discussion, but that's just me ;-)

Let me know if you'd prefer I try to encapsulate the two documents, or read them yourself, and following one of the two we'll continue if you'd like. I am finding this discussion worthwhile and I appreciate your willingness to take my comments seriously.

It may also be helpful to check Mises very short excerpts: "The Starting Point of Praxeological Thinking" and The Reality of the External World".

Ron said...

Two things and this need not be posted: I'd be happy to do some detailed reading you might recommend in exchange, and feel free to edit (or simply not post)my comments any time; this is your place and I trust your judgment and fairness.

ADHR said...

I've got some time on Tuesday, so I'll take a look at the von Mises then. I suspect he's following a lot of the dominant philosophical thinking of the time (40's/50's), which means there'll be some later stuff I'll be able to recommend. But, we'll see after I've read through those links. :)

undergroundman said...

Given that controlling large amounts of wealth has a distorting effect on market mechanisms, though, I don't share that confidence. Regardless of the levels of subsidies, etc. that the wealthy are granted by government, the mere fact that they control a large quantity of wealth will give them a certain amount of influence over a free market. So, I suspect such a freeing-up of the market would fail to significantly impact the current levels of wealth distribution.

This is exactly right, and it was one of the arguments brought up in a book called Saving Capitalism that I read recently. In it the two University of Chicago finance economists advocate "a political version of antitrust law -- one that prevents a firm from growing big enough to have the clout in domestic politics to eventually suppress market forces" (p. 296). They also rightly argue for insuring people against the effects of protectionism and market changes, and providing a safety net. If you don't provide the safety net then anti free-market forces lead to much worse outcomes. When you run the math a safety net is a small price to pay relative to the stability that it brings. The libertarian notion that private donations will replace a safety net is foolish.

Also, clearly it is not the safety net which is bankrupting the United States government. It is the armed forces budget. While the safety net could be reformed (negative income taxes, means-tested Social Security), it is not as large of a burden on the economy as people claim. Our lack of "socialized" healthcare is actually a huge burden on the economy when you consider that we spend twice the percentage of the GDP that other countries do and still come out with relatively low scores on health. And Adam and I both agree on a novel solution to the problem which incorporates free-market principles to enhance efficiency and quality.

There are economically sensible ways to do most policies. For example, guaranteed housing should be done with vouchers because they don't distort the free market and offer the person seeking housing much more flexibility.

Take a couple economics classes with a liberal professor and you'll learn all this stuff, Ron.

Ron said...

adhr: thanks. I'm looking forward.

ADHR said...

UGM,

I knew I was right about the money thing. Thanks for the reference.

It's pretty clear that economic regulation and government control/intervention in certain parts of the market is beneficial. I'm not sure whether Ron is worried about that, though. He seems pretty committed to the idea that (personal negative) liberty is more important than social benefit.

Ron,

Getting to the von Mises, I swear! Some things came up over these past few days. I'll get into von Mises tomorrow for sure.

undergroundman said...

I'm certainly no Paulite. I prefer Mike Gravel, who is a somewhat more economically literate old windbag.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Gravel

Ron said...

undergroundman: Don't make assumptions on who I've listened to, read, or studied under.

For starters, this:

...guaranteed housing should be done with vouchers because they don't distort the free market...

While a so-called liberal economics prof might tell you that vouchers "don't distort the free market" (although I doubt any econ prof actually would), that statement (ideology aside and just looking at the math) is obviously false. The vouchers will increase demand over that which would have existed without them, which will in turn affect the market. I doubt even a liberal economics prof would agree with what you said the way you put it. What they do is "distort differently".

However (and leaving aside my personal preference that *capitalists* is a term better used to refer only to strictly free marketers as opposed to what might be called corporatists/syndicalists) the authors of the book you sensibly recommend describe how capitalists acquire/manipulate undue *political* power which they use to unfairly protect their financial and other interests, which causes a wide variety of wrongs to other individuals, including emerging entrepreneurs. The authors further argue that they must be legislatively prevented from doing so. For the most part, they echo an economic position very similar to that of the Austrian minarchists.

While my druthers might be for a purely anarcho-capitalist situation, moving quickly towards what the book recommends would be a huge improvement over what presently exists. If that's where you stand, we're not all that far apart--and we certainly aren't enemies.

Ron said...

adhr: I look forward.

ADHR said...

UGM,

I just looked up Gravel. How on earth can you have a national sales tax, which is refunded for spending up to the poverty line, without a national bureaucracy to administer it? Does he just want to not call it the IRS?

Ron,

Haven't forgotten about von Mises, honest. I'll blog it next week, on the main page rather than in these comments. I've been sick since Sunday and only now feeling well enough to get back to all the work that's piled up.

I'm becoming curious about why you think that negative liberty is valuable. Is it a natural right? Something to do with dignity? What's the basis for it? I've got an appeal to human flourishing in the background of my political thinking (strictly, in the background of my action theory, which is the basis for all normative thinking, including the political). So, what's at the background of your view?

Ron said...

ADHR wrote: I'm becoming curious about why you think that negative liberty is valuable.

Human flourishing...exactly what I'm after.

My valuation of negative liberty is based on the limits of my knowledge, and therefore on my efforts not to presuppose for others: what their potential might be, what values they might wish to support and develop, and what methods they might use to achieve them.

There are roughly six billion of us living today. I have very little certainty what wonders they wish to achieve, what problems they wish to solve, what art they wish to produce, what goals grandiose or mundane they wish to achieve--and I have even less certainty as to the hierarchies within which they hold these values. I don't know what they know.

Some folks will willingly go without food for the purchase of a prized figurine, others choose a paycheck today over continuing an education that woukld lead to bigger paychecks later, still others value a date with a pretty girl over a good sleep and a fat wallet. Right? Wrong? Who am I to say?

In any case, I cannot enforce the provision of "positive liberty" to individuals (which really only describes the provision of the means to achieve certain goals held valuable by some) without damaging the negative liberties (opportunities/the ability to choose ends) of the same or other individuals. In order to enforce the provision of positive liberty through the mechanisms of the State, I must instigate aggression against those who would choose other ends, other values towards which to work.

If there is an ethical principle at work it is this: it is wrong to instigate coercion. I have no way of righting the cumulative wrongs of past centuries of instigated coercion or their results (as you question regarding present property holdings, say) but I can start right here, right now, refusing to continue the error. I will not instigate (nor support the instigation of) aggression/coercion towards others, even to a minor degree, and even in support of ends that I might wish.

So, I have no plans for the lives of others, no ends towards which I will force them to work--and that necessarily includes not forcing others to improve the "positive liberties" of those around them.

Instead, I support positive liberties voluntarily, alone or with the agreement and cooperation of others, and only to the degree wihere that provision doesn't work against other values I hold to be higher.

And then, of course, there's always Bastiat's What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, which leads me to great caution regarding what plans I might have for other people's stuff anyways.

ADHR said...

So, basically, the basis is Pyrrhonian skepticism? I don't know, so better to play it safe? (Or is it more extreme, something like academic skepticism, i.e., nothing is ever really knowable?) Okay. And how do you defend that? I'm assuming you're not going to say that the limits of your knowledge are the limits of everyone's. (Certainly, I'm perfectly okay with the idea that other people know a lot more than I do.) So, why think that no one has any ideas that would benefit everyone? Because that's what it seems you're committed to, namely that, no matter how much one thinks about and examines the problem, there's no way to ever give sufficient proof of the superiority of one value over another (or even the inferiority of one value to another).

I'm also not clear how this leads to valuing human flourishing. After all, if you really don't know what's going to happen, then blundering into disaster is as possible as stumbling upon success.

The reference to Bastiat is obscure to me; I had to Google around to find the text (this, right? I looked over the introductory section.). I'm really not sure what to make of it. It looks like a blanket condemnation of consequentialist-style approaches to politics, ethics, etc. But, of course, consequentialist arguments have been waning since the collapse (or, at least, heavy critique) of non-cognitivism in the 40's and 50's. (There's no connection between the metaethical and normative ethical positions; it's historical accident that the two went and are now going together.) Deontologist (including rights-, duty- and contract-based approaches) and aretic ethicists, not to mention sentimentalists (such as Hume or Adam Smith; there don't appear to be any good online articles explaining the approach generally, and the Wikipedia entry on sentimentalism confuses it with intuitionism), don't have to worry about whether or not we can foresee the consequences of actions.

Ron said...

More later (in a couple of days, busy as heck) but for now, re: Or is it more extreme, something like academic skepticism, i.e., nothing is ever really knowable?)

Nope. *Nothing* like that. :-)

ADHR said...

Good. ;) There's a serious circularity problem with academic skepticism. If nothing is knowable, how can academic skepticism be known?