Monday, February 23, 2015

The NFL makes a poor scapegoat for society's domestic violence problem

Zachary Schlosberg's recent article on domestic violence in football omits the crucial fact that NFL players commit domestic violence at a much lower rate than the general population: roughly half as often as men the same age nationwide. Interestingly, the NFL rate is also lower than the NBA rate. Any domestic violence is too much, but this discredits the narrative that it’s inordinately prevalent in professional football.

Hours after the article was posted, the Academy Award for Best Picture was presented by famed actor Sean Penn. In the 1980’s, Penn was arrested for domestic assault of his then-wife Madonna, whom he supposedly struck with a baseball bat. Mel Gibson, Nicolas Cage, and many other Hollywood stars have been arrested on similar charges. Is the entire film industry also “disgraceful” for doing so little to fix the problem?

Selective outrage against the NFL reflects a deeper distrust of football itself, which long predates Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson. While Hollywood is full of unimposing drama geeks, the NFL is full of hulking jocks who make money through violence, so we’re predisposed to see them as brutish. Schlosberg reveals his own distaste for the sport when he claims the NFL "cares only about reproducing its own ugliness and turning its evils into more profit." He’s free to think football is ugly and evil, but it’s unfair to let that color his perception of the players' behavior off the field.


We all have an obligation to address domestic violence. Scapegoating sports won’t help.

Monday, February 16, 2015

What would happen if we invade Iraq to go after ISIS?

A social media acquaintance recently posted a link to the horrid video of ISIS beheading 21 Coptic Christians, accompanied by the message "Congress and the President must act!". I replied asking him which action he would like them to undertake, and he said that while he wasn't an expert on the details, he'd support some kind of invasion with allied forces, ideally without any nation building component. He also asked me what the non-interventionist approach to this sort of problem would be. This was my reply.

An invasion would succeed rather quickly in terms of territorial advancement. We have tanks, they don't, that sort of thing. We'd kill a few, lose only a handful, and drive the rest of them from the field within months if it even took that long.


What
would then happen is ISIS would go underground and fight an insurgency war very similar to the one we just got out of against Al Qaeda. This would give us two options:

1. Leave, watch ISIS come back out from under their rock and continue doing what they were doing before we momentarily interrupted them.

2. Stick around as an occupying counterinsurgency force AGAIN, trying to pick off ISIS whenever they pop their heads up, rebuild the same Iraqi troops we just unsuccessfully trained for a decade, with no clear end state and tons of civilians being caught in the cross fire. Last time we did this, there were more global terrorists when we left than there were when we arrived, because the middle east hated our drones and occupation so much that the terrorists recruited faster than we could kill them. This would go on indefinitely, until we quit, which returns us to option #1.

Listen, my blood curdles when I see these videos too. If I'm sent there, I'll have no moral qualms whatsoever about fighting them. If there were a button I could press to make all of them die, I would press it and the world would be better off. But there exists no such button, and hawkish bluster doesn't provide one.

So to answer your question, the non-interventionist position is just general skepticism about the wisdom of foreign intervention - the same skepticism you apply to the government's likelihood of succeeding without unintended consequences for economic regulations. That doesn't mean there aren't a few scenarios in which it's worth it, and perhaps this is one of them - that's for people with higher rank than me to decide. All I know is that there will never be a day when the US finally kills the last terrorist. If terrorism is to end over the long term, its demise will not be externally orchestrated: that requires a social change that will have to come from within the region. We can only hasten that day's arrival through soft power by exporting our culture and building our peaceful, relatively tolerant democracy so high and enticing that the people of the middle east will come to yearn for it, and so make radical violent Jihad socially unacceptable by comparison. Eliminating excuses for them to view the west as an imperial Christian conqueror wouldn't hurt either.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

More Rand Paul media coverage nonsense

Episode #2 of the Bullshit Media Coverage of Rand Paul Chronicles picks up where we left off in Episode #1: this whole vaccine business (you can read Episode 1 in the Chronicles here, for some helpful background).

On February 5th, The Washington Post posted this article as a news feature (not under the opinion section, mind you). Co-author David A. Fahrenthold has a history of reporting negative things about Paul, so much so that he inspired these September 2014 protests from the Paul camp. Their text is highlighted in blue, while my responses are in black. Paragraph breaks may sometimes be added or subtracted from their original text, and accompanying pictures (usually of Rand Paul scowling) have have been omitted.

For Rand Paul, a rude awakening to the rigors of a national campaign

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) found himself in hot water this week over his comments about child vaccination. (John Locher/AP)
David A. FahrentholdMatea Gold February 5
Rand Paul’s plan to get himself elected president relies on two long-shot bets coming true.
So far, neither one seems to be going well.


Paul’s first wager is that his “libertarian-ish” ideas will manage to attract Republicans mad about regulation and Democrats mad about government spying — forming an entirely new American voting bloc. “The leave-me-alone coalition,” Paul calls it.

I pause here to point out that throughout the article, they never return to this point to explain why this bet is a "long shot," nor why it "doesn't seem to be going well." They just say so. In truth, Paul is polling near the top of the Republican hopefuls and usually polls the strongest against likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head match-up. His shot doesn't appear much longer than anyone else's - though it might become so if the media repeats it often enough. This is a classic marginalization tactic: when mainstream, DC-centered outlets like the Washington Post portray Paul as a radical who can't win, everything that follows is filtered through the lens of expectations they've placed before the reader's eyes. Support that might otherwise have been won is abandoned in the belief it is a futile effort. Ideas the reader might otherwise agree with are preemptively discredited for fear of being cast as an unreasonable "extremist" oneself.


The second bet is a bet on Paul himself — a wager that he’s an unusually talented politician persuasive enough to build a coalition out of groups that have never viewed themselves as allies.
This week, Paul’s ideas put him at the middle of a national controversy when he applied his trademark libertarian, skeptical thinking to the question of childhood vaccines. They should be largely voluntary, Paul said, as a matter of freedom. He also said he had heard of children who “wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”I don't think it requires skeptical libertarian thinking to say either of those things. Most people have indeed "heard of children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines," including President Barack Obama. But like most people, both Obama and Paul have concluded that the vaccines are not what caused those disorders, which makes them both safe and wise. Like Obama, Paul vaccinates himself and his children, and praises vaccines emphatically and often. Like Paul, Obama has declined to extend that recommended behavior into a legal mandate, even when directly questioned on whether they would support such a law. Medically, legally, and personally, they agree. Vaccines are voluntary in the status quo, and no national politician that I know of has suggested legislation to make them involuntary - libertarian and skeptical or otherwise.

At times, he has seemed uninterested in — or unprepared for — the basic tasks of being a national politician. 

For instance, this week he “shushed” a female interviewer on national TV. After his vaccine comments drew angry reactions, he accused the media of misconstruing his remarks about vaccines and mental disorders. “I did not say vaccines caused disorders, just that they were temporally related,” Paul said in a statement. “I did not allege causation.”

They say "for instance," and then what follows is not an instance of what they just said. He shushed an interviewer who was interrupting him (and being so altogether aggressive that she apologized a few minutes later) so he could finish his answer and accurately convey his position. If he is preparing for and interested in a national campaign, not having his answer misconstrued seems imperative. For that same reason, he later clarified his comments sensibly, in a way that meshes with all of his other recorded comments about vaccines to date and should have put the entire discussion to rest. How does that seem uninterested or unprepared?

Media distortion is not evidence of Rand Paul's failure to prepare for media distortion. These incidents only give the appearance of sexism or anti-vaxxer craziness to people who weren't listening to the full context of the interview - which is to say people who heard about them second hand, after other media sites presented them with that context deliberately withheld. News outlets cannot allude to their own sensationalism as an unavoidable feature of the campaign landscape, especially when it's unevenly and selectively applied.

Paul could not be reached for comment for this article, and e-mails seeking comment from aides at his political action committee, RANDPAC, were not returned. A spokesman for Paul’s Senate office, when asked whether Paul could comment about his missteps this week, wrote back with a one-word message.


“Seriously?” spokesman Brian Darling wrote.


Seriously, he was told.


Darling did not reply after that.

Context about the prior animosity between Paul and Fahrenthold is important here, but even independently of that, the matter they asked Paul to comment on - "his missteps this week" - presumes he was at fault for what happened in an antagonistic and condescending way. That alone is a giveaway to the hack-job hit piece the article was always intended to be, and explains why Paul's office wouldn't contribute.


Paul — the son of libertarian leader and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul — has not formally said he’s running for president. But he’s showing all the symptoms. Rand Paul has hired top-flight GOP operatives, has visited New Hampshire and is planning a trip to Iowa this weekend.
Right now, polls put Paul near the top of a crowded and muddled GOP field.


National surveys have shown him running slightly behind former Florida governor Jeb Bush, with his support at roughly 10 percent among Republican-leaning voters. A recent poll in Iowa showed that 64 percent of likely caucus-goers had a favorable opinion of Paul. That was tied for second, behind former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.


That is better than Paul’s father was doing at the same point four years ago, but not by much.

So if he's second and near the top, why did they say his chances were a long-shot? I guess everyone but Hillary is a long-shot this far away from the race, but I doubt they'd employ the same word choice about Bush or Walker.


He has said his candidacy will work if it catches the country at a fed-up, libertarian moment.
“I think there is a moment that has come to the country, where . . . the ‘leave-me-alone coalition,’ or the limited-government types, [are] the majority,” Paul told a gathering of young libertarians last year. “People aren’t really happy saying, ‘I’m a Republican’ or ‘a Democrat.’ There is a plurality of people, though, that are a little bit of both. . . . We can find that sweet spot, bring those people together.” He would advocate both an old conservative value — “economic liberty,” the right to conduct business without government meddling — with an appeal to “personal liberty,” including traditionally liberal causes such as privacy protections and criminal justice reforms.

A year before the first caucus and 21 months before the general election, it’s impossible to know whether Paul’s libertarian moment will arrive at the right time. The state of the international battle against the Islamic State, for instance, could determine whether Paul’s skeptical views on war seem prescient or out of touch. For Paul, then, it is vital to control the factors that lie within his grasp. In his speech to those young conservatives, Paul said it was important to project a hopeful, almost joyous attitude. “Sugarcoat it with optimism,” he told the crowd, “like a man coming over the hill singing.”

This past week, Paul did not look like a man coming over the hill singing.


You're right, he did not - and that's entirely your fault. You collectively (but especially you individually), as the media outlets who choose which comments are newsworthy, and as the talking heads who choose the light in which to portray those comments, get to decide what Rand Paul looks like, and for month of February you have made a concerted decision to take him down a notch. That was clear before the CNBC interview even happened, when Fahrenthold decided it was a good time to recycle the refuted 2010 non-issue about Rand Paul's National Board of Opthamology. It was clear at the start of the interview, when Evans' opening question began with the words "Did you really just say?". It was clear when her next question began with the words "Maybe you're not aware..." It was clearer yet when her final question began with "speaking of conflict of interest." It was confirmed when Huffington Post, NBC, and the Washington Post plastered their homepages with snippets of Paul's response that indicated his position was the polar opposite of what he'd actually said. And after this article failed to incite enough negative publicity as they would have liked, it was reiterated with a hodge podge of straw-grasping on everything from his college degree to his fabricated homophobia to his alleged doomsday anti-Semitic conspiracies.

“Hey, Kelly! Hey, hey! Shhhhh!” Paul said to CNBC anchor Kelly Evans, putting his finger to his lips, when Evans interrupted him during an interview about a tax proposal. “Calm down a bit here, Kelly. Let me answer the question.”

The "question" Rand Paul was trying to answer here began with "I’m sure you know that most of the evidence on these tax holidays indicate that they actually cost more money than they save…". Next time the media asks Clinton a question like "I'm sure you know that most of the evidence on this thing you support says it's a bad idea that doesn't work...", you tell me what her reaction is. I suspect we might be waiting for a long time, and it's not because the evidence supports her.

On the subject of vaccines, Paul struggled with what might be the first rule of presidential campaigning: Try not to shoot yourself in the foot. And if you do, stop shooting. First, he was asked about vaccinations on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. Paul said that he was not against vaccines but that “most of them ought to be voluntary.”After that raised a controversy, Paul reacted first with sarcasm: “Well, I guess being for freedom would be really, uh, unusual?” he said on CNBC. “I guess I don’t understand the point.”

I don't understand the point either, Randall. Was President Obama also shooting himself in the foot when he agreed that they should be voluntary? What about essentially every other politician in the country, who believes the same thing? Are they unusual? Are they self-destructing? Are they raising a controversy? Or are the people shooting at Rand's feet the ones who persistently try to conflate this common, sensible, status-quo, personal liberty, my-body-my-choice policy with anti-vaxxer lunacy, but only do so for one candidate in particular?

Then he tried spin, saying he hadn’t meant what he’d seemed to say about vaccines and mental disorders. Finally, he sought to play the victim. Paul posted a photo of himself getting a vaccine booster shot on Twitter, with a caption that included the line, “Wonder how the liberal media will misreport this?”

Paul’s handling of the vaccine issue is one of several instances recently in which he has seemed to struggle with the kind of high-pressure interactions that would become run-of-the-mill for a presidential candidate.

Notice how many times in this article Fahrenthold announces that Rand Paul "seemed to _____." He didn't actually say this, but he "seemed to say" it. He might not actually struggle, but he seemed to struggle. He "seemed uninterested". His presidential campaign does not "seem to be going well." This is one of the biggest journalism cop-outs, because it allows writers who pretend to be dealing in facts to present their own opinions: so long as at least one person thinks X, it is technically an objective statement that to some people X "seems" true. You can see why that's problematic when the one person is the author himself.

Last month, Paul spoke onstage — along with fellow senators and proto-candidates Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — at a gathering of wealthy conservative donors in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Rubio wore a suit. Cruz wore a jacket and slacks. Paul, following a personal fashion trademark, wore blue jeans.

That was viewed by some in the room as inappropriately informal for an aspiring presidential candidate.

Okay. This article has now devolved into unnamed critics second guessing the wardrobe decisions made at a private ranch. Did Mr. Fahrenthold attend this meeting as a reporter for the post? If so, does he also count as "some in the room"? Or was it the wealthy neoconservative sitting next to him who hates Paul's foreign policy views and all-too-happy to invent some trivial criticism? These are the "rigors" of a national campaign that Rand Paul will supposedly have trouble adapting to - putting on a suit?

Paul also stuck out for his tone. He was low-key, almost weary, while the other two were polished and energetic.

Rand Paul is a laid back guy. Supporters would argue that makes him seem more sincere, like he's not putting on a show with false enthusiasm and a phony smile. If Paul's style  doesn't animate you personally, fine, but word choice is everything. When Barack Obama goes casual, he's calm, cool collected, composed, confident, relaxed. When Paul does it, he's weary. This resembles the GOP tripe about Obama saying "uh" too much - attacking the manner in which ideas are presented instead of the ideas themselves. It's scraping the bottom of the barrel.

The rest of the article - a few paragraphs talking about his difficulty wooing neoconservative and socially conservative voters, which I won't reproduce - is actually fair. It's doubtful these voters will support Paul as their first choice in the primary, and remains to be seen if he can win without them. Maybe he can't. Exploring why would make for an interesting article.

But that's not the article the Washington Post published, and there's a reason for that: they just don't like him very much.

A week of media nonsense about Rand Paul

When I concluded my last post lamenting the media’s unfair treatment of Rand Paul, I hinted at my premonition of more biased hack-jobs in the months to come. I sometimes wish I wasn’t so right all the time, because what followed has been the single most slanted week of media coverage about a single individual that I can recall. The stories I’ve seen can be divided into four so-called “controversies”, each of which were entirely invented by people who, through some combination of profitable sensationalism and political bias, eagerly want Rand Paul to be mired in controversy:
  1. Continuing fallout from the same cherry-picked statement on vaccines I derided in my last post.
  2. Accusations of sexism for “shushing” the female reporter who was talking over his response to her aggressive questioning.
  3. A slew of fear-mongering about the “Audit the Fed” bill Rand Paul has nearly guided through Congress.
  4. Headlines suggesting Paul intentionally affiliated with an anti-gay hate speech documentary, when in reality the documentary merely used a clip of him discussing states rights without his knowledge.
  5. Mainstream accusations that Paul was disingenuously inflating his academic resume, when he was actually underselling it.

Consequently, I have decided to create running chronicle of all the articles I see from mainstream news sites which, in my opinion, treat Rand unfairly. In the buildup to the 2016 presidential election, I hope this list illustrates how differently the media treats even “libertarian-ish” candidates from more mainstream options like Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton. The goal is not to allege outright conspiracy, but to illuminate the major media outlets’ organizational bias for the narrow range of entrenched policy options Washington insiders consider credible. 

How many I post will likely be much more limited by how many I have time to refute than it will be by how much there is out there to be refuted, but I’ll try to at least save the stories for later reference. For now, I’ll dive into the articles I read this week, and hyperlink the above list to the corresponding episodes as I complete them.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Debate on President Obama's statements at the National Prayer Breakfast

Today I got in a debate about the President’s comments at the National Prayer Breakfast. I supported them, but most people in the conservative group I was in did not. It basically turned into 20 uber-Christians ganging up on me and I don’t have time to copy and paste everything they said, but I’ll post the 2 or 3 comments I responded to directly. The rest are just a transcript of my own frenzied comments trying to keep up with all they were saying. Hopefully you can pick up enough of the context indirectly based on my counterarguments.



David - But Why? Why always tearing down America and Christianity? "You didn't build that", "American's aren't exceptional, after burning a man alive comparing ISIS to Christians. Yes, he is fundamentally changing America and you, I see compliment him.
I don't think he's tearing down America and Christianity so much as keeping us honest about our judgment of OTHER faiths and places. In the wake of isis brutality, Americans' passions too often spill over into animosity against ALL Muslims. It's important to adopt a conciliatory tone that reminds us that neither Islam, Christianity nor any other religion is the problem, only those who bastardize them to justify horrid acts.
Marty, why limit it to "burning for heresy"? ISIS burned this guy for bombing them, essentially for murder. Christians have done that within the past century.

This is a picture of Jesse Washington, a black teenager accused of rape in Texas in 1916. Members of the mob castrated Washington, cut off his fingers, and hung him over a bonfire. He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. After the fire was extinguished, his charred torso was dragged through the town and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs. A professional photographer took pictures as the event unfolded. The pictures were printed and sold as postcards in Waco. 10,000 people included the event, and it was intentionally scheduled during lunch hour so that local schoolchildren could watch as well.

The middle east is a less developed place than the west: economically, culturally, socially, politically, etc. They have a lot of progress to make, and they are yet to learn many of the lessons we've learned. But that is not the fault of Islam any more than this unspeakable picture is the fault of Christianity.
The Bible teaches some pretty messed up stuff too, Mary, if you interpret it literally. Children who disobey their parents should be stoned to death, etc. Part of joining the modern century is about recognizing the literal text of people writing multiple millennium ago should be interpreted somewhat figuratively and symbolically, and that's as true for Christianity as it is for Islam. Thankfully, the vast majority of the 1 billion + Muslims in the world get that. But when you're growing up in desperate poverty in a war-torn region, and many of the bombs falling on your neighborhood are coming from American drones, you often can't see things as clearly as you or I sitting back in our comfortable Western lifestyles. Rand Paul understands that.
Nobody is justifying what ISIS is doing! If you watch the speech or read the transcript, you'll see Obama criticized them very strongly, called them a "death cult", etc. He wasn't comparing ISIS to Christianity though, he was comparing Islam to Christianity, and showing how it wasn't too long ago that a small group of radicals warped the otherwise good and decent Christian faith into doing horrible things as well.
Michael - I just can't find it plausible that anyone, with the least of morals, can justify what ISIS is doing. Comparing ISIS to Christianity was only done to further divide us. You fell for it...
Were the Nazis and the KKK Christian terrorists, Michael? Because technically they were Christian, and they certainly committed acts of terrorism. Or, is the fact that the Nazis and KKK are Christian somewhat incidental to the fact that they committed acts of terrorism, such that calling them "Christian terrorists" would unfairly associate them with what most Christians are all about?
Scott - Andrew- please explain two things: 1- Crusades. What were Christians fighting for? and 2- With Obama's Jim Crow/slavery innuendo, what group was primarily responsible for ending slavery?
In the Crusades, the Christians were mostly fighting to expand the power and reach of greedy popes, under the guise of evangelism. The group primarily responsible for ending slavery was northern abolitionists, which at the time found a home on the radical fringe of the Republican party.
I'd be happy to hear your version of history if you think I'm wrong. What do you think the crusades were about? Do you think they were morally justified and that God was smiling down upon them? Do you think slavery was ended by somebody other than the Republican party?
Mercedes, I think it is productive to break down Islamophobic prejudice and hone our outrage at the specific individuals responsible. That will make it harder for Rand Paul's opponents to smear him or his followers as racists.
Matt - Andrew Doris the Crusades started as Christians defending themselves from Muslims trying to invade and kill them, and the Christian pilgrims who would peacefully go to the Holy Land then get murdered by the Muslims.
Matthew I have no doubt the Muslims committed atrocities of their own, but the idea that all of the Crusades were purely defensive is just hogwash. Popes wanting to reclaim the Holy Land they'd lost centuries before does not count as defensive. There were 7-9 crusades committed for a variety of reasons, but most of them were launched by aggressive and expansionist popes, nobles who wanted land, soldiers wanted places to pillage and take the spoils from, etc. They often burned and raped everything in their path. There were also political crusades against political enemies and their followers. It is not a proud moment in European history.
Charles - Alright, I'm going to wade into this. 1, Andrew you have a significant amount of logical fallacies. First, just because you call yourself a Christian doesn't mean you are one. Nice straw man, complete with burning corpse. The Nazis were not Christian. You can't replace the cross with a picture of Hitler and call yourself a Christian, it doesn't work that way. 2, the KKK and slavery. Slavery was brought to an end by the abolitionist movement and the second great awakening of the Christian Church. The KKK can wear white sheets and go to church, still not a Christian. Christianity means following the teachings of Jesus Christ. Ergo your previous examples of old testament treatment, stoning, etc. are not applicable. That's Jewish law, Mosaic law. I wish atheists could get that straight, but then I guess they'd have to have read the book and not cherry pick excerpts out of context. You can call a hoe a shovel but that doesn't make it one. What something is, is dictated by their actions in line with their stated principles. Finally, the Quran does state that Muslims should kill or convert all non believers. They should try to conquer the world. That all men should rule over women and treat them as chattel. Again, read the book instead of swallowing the rhetoric, calling it a religion of peace doesn't make it so. End rant.
Ok Charles, that was a great post - thanks for wading in. You're right I've been going purely by self-affiliation, so let's accept your definition. Couldn't the vast majority of peaceful muslims in the world just say the same thing about ISIS? "They're not real Muslims, they practice something very different from what we actually stand for." There's a bit of the "no true Scotsmen" fallacy in there. Secondly, aren't you just cherry-picking quotes from the Koran too? Have you read it cover to cover? I share your interpretation of the Bible that Jesus trumps the old testament and changed the game so to speak, but many Christians still use Old Testament, Abrahamic law to justify their political positions (10 commandments to prohibit certain sexual deeds, Deuteronomy to prohibit homosexuality, etc.). The point is that allowing ourselves an interpretation of the Bible that essentially ignores all the warts and ugly parts, without extending that same courtesy to other religious peoples who are trying to reconcile thousand-year-old belief systems with modern conceptions of morality, seems like a mighty convenient double standard. I highly doubt, if you were born in some other region of the world, that you would see it the same way.
The middle east as a region is less advanced and developed than the west as a region. This is true economically, culturally, socially, religiously, politically, and in most other ways. This is partly do to centuries of Western colonialism and domination, but that's another story - point is they're behind, for whatever reason. Nobody is contesting the idea that the level of barbarism, violence, oppression of women and all around evil that goes on in Christian countries TODAY is far less than the amount that goes on in primarily Muslim countries TODAY. But that does NOT mean that religion is the reason for that, any more than skin color or climate is the reason for that. It's not that simple, sorry! The middle east is violent for many of the same reasons sub-Saharan Africa is violent - not because they're muslim, but because they're desperately poor, wracked by tribal rivalries that go back centuries, were set back in their development by centuries of Western colonialism and oppression, and lots of other complicated reasons. To blame this complex web causes all on Islam is to fundamentally misunderstand the problem out of intellectual laziness and chest-thumping ethnocentric jingoism, which makes us more likely to worsen the problem than to solve it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Answering RJ Eskow’s rather easy questions for libertarians

In September of 2013, I stumbled across this very silly article by R.J. Eskow and decided to write a blog post refuting it (yes, that’s how backlogged my blog ideas are before I finally finish them). Anyways, I finally got around to it. I’ll go line by line. His quotes are in purple, and my responses are in black.

Eleven questions that expose their contradictions and faulty logic

Libertarians have a problem. Their political philosophy all but died out in the mid- to late-20th century, but was revived by billionaires and corporations that found them politically useful. And yet libertarianism retains the qualities that led to its disappearance from the public stage, before its reanimation by people like the Koch brothers: It doesn’t make any sense.

It’s worth noting that at no point in this raving and incoherent article does Eskow ever substantiate his oft repeated claim that libertarianism “all but died out in the mid- to late-20th century.” If I had to guess, this is probably because it absolutely did no such thing. Nor does he substantiate his suggestion that the rapidly approaching libertarian era of widespread social tolerance and fiscal conservatism our nation is about to enter, which his article is a desperate and transparent attempt to reverse, is entirely the doing of a bunch of good-for-nothing selfish rich people. It’s a pity, because I’d very much like to hear his theory as to why libertarian ideas better serve corporate interests now than they did back then.

Amusingly, insinuating that public opinion is so easily manipulated by a mere handful of wealthy puppeteers, conspiring behind the scenes to feed the sheeple what they want them to believe, sounds remarkably similar to some of the most outlandish of libertarian conspiracy theories.

They call themselves “realists” but rely on fanciful theories that have never predicted real-world behavior. They claim that selfishness makes things better for everybody, when history shows exactly the opposite is true. They claim that a mythical “free market” is better at everything than the government is, yet when they really need government protection, they’re the first to clamor for it.

Once again, it’s tough to refute such vague claims with anything but vague denials. If he’d like to back one of them up, hopefully this exercise will become something more interesting than he-said-she-said. I will remark that I don’t advocate selfishness; I’m merely not audacious enough to consider giving away other people’s money selfless.

That’s no reason not to work with them on areas where they’re in agreement with people like me. In fact, the unconventionality of their thought has led libertarians to be among this nation’s most forthright and outspoken advocates for civil liberties and against military interventions.

I welcome the help, although I had to chuckle at the “people like me” bit. He could have said “work with them on the few areas they stumble into the right answer”, or something to that effect, thereby applying to an audience larger than the pitiable group of people who agree with R.J. Eskow on absolutely everything. But I suppose “the right answer” and “agreement with me” are so conceptually inseparable to him as to be unworthy of distinction.

Merriam-Webster defines “hypocrisy” as “feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not.” We aren’t suggesting every libertarian is a hypocrite. But there’s an easy way to find out.

The Other Libertarianism
First, some background. There is a kind of libertarianism that’s nothing more or less than a strain in the American psyche, an emotional tendency toward individualism and personal liberty. That’s fine and even admirable.

We’re talking about the other libertarianism, the political philosophy whose avatar is the late writer Ayn Rand. It was once thought that this extreme brand of libertarianism, one that celebrates greed and even brutality, had died in the early 1980s with Rand herself. Many Rand acolytes had already gone underground, repressing or disavowing the more extreme statements of their youth and attempting to blend in with more mainstream schools of thought in respectable occupations.

I tip my hat to Eskow for acquitting the “strain in the American psyche” that likes individual liberty, even if only in passing. Truly, this strain is the heart of all libertarianism.

Unfortunately, that’s where Eskow’s understanding of libertarianism’s many nuances abruptly ends. His idea that any self-described libertarian who can articulate their beliefs as something more than an “emotional tendency,” in fact as a coherent, logical, developed holistic and internally consistent philosophy, can be clumped into one group – the Ayn Rand people – is complete nonsense. I for one don’t even like Ayn Rand. If Eskow is interested in many varied perspectives that make up the foundation of the libertarian tradition, I invite him to start with Locke, Mill, Spooner, von Mises, Hayek, Hazlitt, Reed, Friedman (both Milton and David!), Rothbard, and Nozick. Somehow I doubt he’ll take me up on that.

There was a good reason for that. Randian libertarianism is an illogical, impractical, inhumane, unpopular set of Utopian ravings which lacks internal coherence and has never predicted real-world behavior anywhere. That’s why, reasonably enough, the libertarian movement evaporated in the late 20th century, its followers scattered like the wind.

At least one of the above authors was alive and writing to an enthusiastic audience at all points during the 20th century. The libertarian movement evaporated only in the wishful imaginations of people who do not like libertarianism.

Pay to Play
But the libertarian movement has seen a strong resurgence in recent years, and there’s a simple reason for that: money, and the personal interests of some people who have a lot of it. Once relegated to drug-fueled college-dorm bull sessions, political libertarianism suddenly had pretensions of legitimacy. This revival is Koch-fueled, not coke-fueled, and exists only because in political debate, as in so many other walks of life, cash is king.

The Koch brothers are principal funders of the Reason Foundation and Reason magazine. Exxon Mobil and other corporate and billionaire interests are behind the Cato Institute, the other public face of libertarianism. Financiers have also seeded a number of economics schools, think tanks, and other institutions with proponents of their brand of libertarianism. It’s easy to explain why some of these corporate interests do it. It serves the self-interest of the environmental polluters, for example, to promote a political philosophy which argues that regulation is bad and the market will correct itself. And every wealthy individual benefits from tax cuts for the rich. What better way to justify that than with a philosophy that says they’re rich because they’re better—and that those tax cuts help everybody?

Reason Magazine was founded in 1968, and the Cato Institute was founded in 1977 – right during that “late 20th century” period when libertarianism was allegedly dying out. It was followed by the wildly popular small-government rhetoric of Reagan in the 80’s and Newt Gingrich in the 90’s (though, to be clear, neither are exactly libertarian heroes). So the timing of his theory just doesn’t make sense in the first place.

But let’s presume libertarianism really did die out in the late 20th century, and that it really has been reborn instead of just steadily growing in popularity ever since 2008. If Eskow’s theory is that moneyed interests fully explains the resurgence of libertarianism, he’ll need to explain why libertarianism better suited those moneyed interests in 2008 than it did in 1998 or 1988, which seems pretty dubious to me.

The truth is that most major, well-connected corporations don’t like libertarianism because it makes their connections less valuable and restricts their power. In fact, Wall Street strongly supports establishment candidates like Hillary Clinton over people like Rand Paul (God-forbid Ron Paul!) because moneyed interests are precisely what props up the status quo Eskow so naively supports.

The rise of the Silicon Valley economy has also contributed to the libertarian resurgence. A lot of Internet billionaires are nerds who suddenly find themselves rich and powerful, and they’re emotionally and intellectually inclined toward libertarianism’s geeky and unrealistic vision of a free market. In their minds its ideas are “heuristic,” “autologous” and “cybernetic”—all of which has inherent attraction in their culture.

The only problem is: It’s only a dream. At no time or place in human history has there been a working libertarian society which provided its people with the kinds of outcomes libertarians claim it will provide. But libertarianism’s self-created mythos claims that it’s more realistic than other ideologies, which is the opposite of the truth. The slope from that contradiction to the deep well of hypocrisy is slippery, steep—and easy to identify.

For most of human history, there had never been a society which outlawed slavery (so far as I know). This does not mean that outlawing slavery was a bad idea, or that trying new things which haven’t been done before is a waste of time. While it’s true there has never been a libertarian society that provided its people with the kinds of outcomes libertarians claim it will provide, that’s only because there has never been a libertarian society period, which doesn’t prove much in terms of which outcomes we claim would arise from it.

That being said, some countries have been relatively freer from government intrusion than others, and there’s good reason to believe those with less intrusion yield better outcomes overall.

The Libertarian Hypocrisy Test
That’s where the Libertarian Hypocrisy Test comes in. Let’s say we have a libertarian friend, and we want to know whether or not he’s hypocritical about his beliefs. How would we go about conducting such a test? The best way is to use the tenets of his philosophy to draw up a series of questions to explore his belief system.

The Cato Institute’s overview of key libertarian concepts mixes universally acceptable bromides like the “rule of law” and “individual rights” with principles that are more characteristically libertarian—and therefore more fantastical. Since virtually all people support the rule of law and individual rights, it is the other concepts which are uniquely libertarian and form the basis of our first few questions.

The Institute cites “spontaneous order,” for example, as “the great insight of libertarian social analysis.” Cato defines that principle thusly:

“… (O)rder in society arises spontaneously, out of the actions of thousands or millions of individuals who coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes.”
To which the discerning reader might be tempted to ask: Like where, exactly? Libertarians define “spontaneous order” in a very narrow way—one that excludes demonstrations like the Arab Spring, elections which install progressive governments, or union movements, to name three examples. And yet each of these things are undertaken by individuals who “coordinated their actions with those of others” to achieve our purposes.

So our first hypocrisy test question is, Are unions, political parties, elections, and social movements like Occupy examples of “spontaneous order”—and if not, why not? (boldface added, italics original)

Spontaneous order is fully compatible with unions and social movements. What it’s incompatible with is the use of force: that’s when the order ceases to be spontaneous, and starts to be imposed. The state consists solely of force (that’s what distinguishes it from fully private organizations) so state-orchestrated elections and political parties do deviate from the spontaneous order in that regard.
To most libertarians, however, this is okay, because we freely admit that the spontaneous order is not purely good, and are often okay with limited state intervention to address some of its evils. The spontaneous order is mostly just a way of warding off accusations that pure liberty would be chaos, by demonstrating that we are not choosing whether to have order, merely which sort of order is preferable to the other.

Cato also trumpets what it calls “The Virtue of Production” without ever defining what production is. Economics defines the term, but libertarianism is looser with its terminology. That was easier to get away with in the Industrial Age, when “production” meant a car, or a shovel, or a widget.

Today nearly 50 percent of corporate profits come from the financial sector—that is, from the manipulation of money. It’s more difficult to define “production,” and even harder to find its “virtue,” when the creation of wealth no longer necessarily leads to the creation of jobs, or economic growth, or anything except the enrichment of a few.

Which seems to be the point. Cato says, “Modern libertarians defend the right of productive people to keep what they earn, against a new class of politicians and bureaucrats who would seize their earnings to transfer them to nonproducers.”

Which gets us to our next test question: Is a libertarian willing to admit that production is the result of many forces, each of which should be recognized and rewarded?

First off, this question is not a test of hypocrisy, so much as a test of whether someone agrees with R.J. Eskow. But I’ll answer it anyway: yes, production is the result of many forces. Yes, each should be recognized and rewarded. And they should be rewarded in close proportion to the value of their contribution to its production, as determined by the price- and wage-setting forces of supply and demand. They should not be rewarded in proportion to how valuable some group of people subjectively assesses their contribution to be, especially when that group of people is economically ignorant enough to think the financial sector is unrelated to economic growth or job creation.

Retail stores like Walmart and fast-food corporations like McDonalds cannot produce wealth without employees. Don’t those employees have the right to “coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes”—for example, in unions? You would think that free-market philosophers would encourage workers, as part of a free-market economy, to discover the market value for their services through negotiation.

Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that workers who bargain for their services, individually and collectively, are also employing market forces?

Yes! Ideologically consistent libertarians wholeheartedly support the right of people to form unions, join unions, and coordinate their actions within those unions (for example, by going on strike or abiding by certain conditions in bargaining agreements) for their collective benefit. We’re pro-market (not necessarily the same as pro-capitalism), and unions can be a healthy part of that.

What we’re opposed to is, again, the use of force, and that’s where the trouble with modern unions comes in: they are backed by men with guns who work for the state. Sadly, today’s unions are not a private organization of people freely appointing representatives to negotiate with their bosses on their behalf. The National Labor Relations Board of the US Federal Government ensures that they are in fact quasi-public organizations, by regulating the sorts of negotiations which may and may not take place between businesses and labor representatives. For example, if a NLRB certified union goes on strike, it is illegal for a business to hire replacement workers outside the union – sometimes unfairly derided as “scabs” – instead of negotiating with the union. That’s how Boeing can get sued for daring to open its new plant in a business friendly state, which is clearly not just “employing market forces.”

By contrast, there can be private unions – like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, who awesomely ignore the NLRB! Charles Johnson of Reason Magazine explains:
C.I.W.’s big wins make them one of the most successful examples of the emerging trend of “alt-labor” organizations. Groups like C.I.W., the Restaurant Opportunities Center, OUR Walmart, and the Domestic Workers United dispense with formal unionization, sidestepping both the privileges and constraints of NLRB labor law, and employ deliberately non-state mechanisms – workplace activism, outreach to consumers, shaming protests, and pressure campaigns—to mobilize workers, provide social support and pressure companies for better pay and conditions. Alt-labor approaches have proven especially successful for workers excluded from NLRB recognition, or in sectors (like low-wage service or restaurant work) where AFL-style collective bargaining has proven difficult or impossible.

Inspiring success stories grab attention in an otherwise dismal scene for organized labor. So should how they happened: through wildcat tactics that only alt-labor organizations like C.I.W. could pull off. They could mobilize consumer pressure and gain Fair Food premiums from corporate buyers only because they followed the supply chain instead of dealing with stonewalling direct employers. Protests and solidarity boycotts directed at corporate buyers compelled companies like Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Walmart to weigh in. Conventional NLRB union regulations would render their entire strategy illegal, as a “secondary action” prohibited under the Taft-Hartley Act.

So no, we’re not opposed to unions. We are only opposed to the NLRB and all other government efforts to coerce businesses into negotiating with unions, or vice-versa, if they don’t want or need to.

The bankers who collude to deceive their customers, as US bankers did with the MERS mortgage system, were permitted to do so by the unwillingness of government to regulate them. The customers who were the victims of deception were essential to the production of Wall Street wealth. Why don’t libertarians recognize their role in the process, and their right to administer their own affairs?

That right includes the right to regulate the bankers who sell them mortgages. Libertarians say that the “free market” will help consumers. “Libertarians believe that people will be both freer and more prosperous if government intervention in people’s economic choices is minimized,” says Cato.

But victims of illegal foreclosure are neither “freer” nor “more prosperous” after the government deregulation which led to their exploitation. What’s more, deregulation has led to a series of documented banker crimes that include stockholder fraud and investor fraud. That leads us to our next test of libertarian hypocrisy: Is our libertarian willing to admit that a “free market” needs regulation?

I preempt my response to this so called “question” to point out its remarkable resemblance to an opinion. In fact, look at the way Eskow has began the past three “questions:

“Is our libertarian willing to admit that…”
“Is our libertarian willing to acknowledge that…”
“Is a libertarian willing to admit that…”

In all three cases, what followed “that” was merely Eksow’s opinion about the way the world works. If that opinion is wrong, the libertarian could decline to acknowledge it without in any way contradicting his stated ideology. So all Eskow is doing is illuminating places where libertarians disagree with viewpoints he holds very strongly, not illuminating the hypocrisy his title alleges.

But I’ll respond anyway: a free market needs only that regulation which forms the structure of the market itself. For example, in order to qualify as “free,” all markets need laws against stealing (stealing violates the right to property and the Non-Aggression Principle, both fundamental libertarian beliefs). One form of stealing is taking people’s money or property on false premises, since this nullifies the terms of the agreement and renders the transaction nonconsensual. If bankers who “collude to deceive” their customers are taking money from people by lying outright, then yes – that is theft. There should be laws against that, as a more nuanced and industry-specific subset of laws against stealing in general. If you want to call such laws “regulations”, fine, but the point is they’re fully consistent with the same libertarian ethic that forms the boundaries of acceptable conduct in all interpersonal relations.

What is inconsistent with that ethic is prohibiting honest transactions which some uninvolved person considers too risky or unwise, and that’s what most of the regulations the modern left is pushing for seek to do. The “right to administer one’s own affairs” does not in any way “include the right to regulate the bankers who sell them mortgages” outside of one’s own affairs, as Eskow suggests. If a banker is trying to sell me a mortgage, I can self-regulate his dealings with ME by declining to consider certain types of financial offers. But I cannot insert myself into his dealings with others by prohibiting those offers across the board (unless, of course, those offers contain deliberately false information that would render the transaction nonconsensual theft).

Digital Libertarians
But few libertarians are as hypocritical as the billionaires who earned their fortunes in the tech world. Government created the Internet. Government financed the basic research that led to computing itself. And yet Internet libertarians are among the most politically extreme of them all.

I know he hasn’t gotten to his question yet, but I have to interject – government invented ARPANET, the earliest form of something that resembled modern internet technology, as a form of military communication technology during the early Cold War. They then didn’t know what to do with it, so they sat on it without applying it to anything for decades. It was only in the late 80’s when they made the technology publicly accessible, which is when private entrepreneurs with big ideas stepped in to make it what it is today. Needless to say, the 25 years after the market got involved have witnessed a far greater explosion of life-bettering applications of the internet than the 25 years of state control that preceded them. The modern internet is one of the greatest examples of spontaneous order left on the planet. It is a forum for exciting and mostly unregulated human interactions from which everyone profits. To simplify that story into four words, “government created the internet,” is such a bastardization of history that it sounds like one of the historical revisions from George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Yes, government created the internet, and then the market made it useful.

Perhaps none is more extreme than Peter Thiel, who made his fortune with PayPal. In one infamous rant, Thiel complained about allowing women and people he describes as “welfare beneficiaries” (which might be reasonably interpreted as “minorities”) to vote. “Since 1920,” Thiel fulminated, “the extension of the franchise to (these two groups) have turned ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”

With this remark, Thiel let something slip that extreme libertarians prefer to keep quiet: A lot of them don’t like democracy very much. In their world, democracy is a poor substitute for the iron-fisted rule of wealth, administered by those who hold the most of it. Our next test, therefore, is: Does our libertarian believe in democracy? If yes, explain what’s wrong with governments that regulate.

I believe in restrained representative democracy, because it is the least bad form of government I know of. That does not mean I must agree with every decision that every democracy makes. Government’s that impose unnecessary regulations are wrong to do so whether or not those regulations are supported by a majority vote, because the entire point of individual rights is to identify the very many things which majorities should not get to decide.

On this score, at least, Thiel is no hypocrite. He’s willing to freely say what others only think: Democracy should be replaced by the rule of wealthy people like himself. But how did Peter Thiel and other Internet billionaires become wealthy? They hired government-educated employees to develop products protected by government copyrights. Those products used government-created computer technology and a government-created communications web to communicate with government-educated customers in order to generate wealth for themselves, which was then stored in government-protected banks—after which they began using that wealth to argue for the elimination of government.

By that standard, Thiel and his fellow “digital libertarians” are hypocrites of genuinely epic proportion. Which leads us to our next question: Does our libertarian use wealth that wouldn’t exist without government in order to preach against the role of government?

This question presupposes a flawed premise: that any wealth created in an economy marked by large government intervention would not also exist in an economy with less government intervention. When the government offers free education to every child in America, for instance, of course most families will take advantage of it, and of course the result is that most consumers and employees will be “government educated.” This does not mean that those people could not have been educated by private schools in the absence of such massive state interference and taxation. The same goes for private mechanisms for insuring banks, driving innovation, building roads, etc.: just because the government does it in the status quo doesn’t mean it would not occur were the government to stop doing it. By analogy, it is not hypocritical for a communist to buy a house, or a car, or a coffee, or to otherwise participate in the market economy, because at the moment there exists no communist alternative for her to acquire those products. She can criticize the existing system and advocate for its downfall, but still live her life in the meantime.

Many libertarians will counter by saying that government has only two valid functions: to protect the national security and enforce intellectual property laws. By why only these two? If the mythical free market can solve any problem, including protecting the environment, why can’t it also protect us from foreign invaders and defend the copyrights that make these libertarians wealthy?

The government has a valid function to protect national security because it protects the natural rights of its citizens to life, liberty and property from outside aggression. Violence can be justified in self-defense, and this applies to large groups of people (like a country) as much as it does to individuals. Ideally, this would be fully voluntary, but the pure market alternative would not protect everybody’s rights (some people could not afford it, for instance, but that wouldn’t lessen the moral imperative that their rights not be violated by outside aggressors). As such, it’s not a question of whether someone’s rights be violated, but of how much violation takes place. I believe that on net, coercive taxation to fund a minimal national security apparatus lessens aggregate human violence in a morally preferable way. The same goes for small police forces and other “night watchmen” state functions.

Nevertheless, current military spending (and the taxation that must go on to fund it) is much too high, and current national security policy may actually make us less secure, so shrinking the government’s role is important to libertarians even in this field.

For that matter, why should these libertarians be allowed to hold patents at all? If the free market can decide how best to use our national resources, why shouldn’t it also decide how best to use Peter Thiel’s ideas, and whether or not to reward him for them? After all, if Thiel were a true Randian libertarian he’d use his ideas in a more superior fashion than anyone else—and he would be more ruthless in enforcing his rights to them than anyone else. Does our libertarian reject any and all government protection for his intellectual property?

Actually, yes! At least, pretty much all of them. The cutting-edge tech companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are at the forefront of the movement for copyright reform. Google is fighting lawsuits about it as we speak, because they’re frustrated by how labyrinthine regulations in that field are slowing the pace of innovation.

I confess my own views on intellectual property are immature in their development; I simply haven’t thought about it all that much. Believe it or not, libertarians are not experts in everything, and it’s unreasonable to expect us to be. But since I have no well-established views on it, my views cannot contradict my ideology, which means he hasn’t exposed any hypocrisy there. And since I’m far from wealthy and have no patents or copyright protections to my name, no conflict of interest can be alleged.

Size Matters
Our democratic process is highly flawed today, but that’s largely the result of corruption from corporate and billionaire money. And yet, libertarians celebrate the corrupting influence of big money. No wonder, since the same money is keeping their movement afloat and paying many of their salaries. But, aside from the naked self-interest, their position makes no sense. Why isn’t a democratically elected government the ultimate demonstration of “spontaneous order”? Does our libertarian recognize that democracy is a form of marketplace?

No I don’t recognize that, because it isn’t true. A democratically elected government is still a government, and all governments boil down to the use of force. That’s what distinguishes them from private organizations (and to be clear, democratic elections within a private, voluntary organization are perfectly fine by us). As I’ve said a bunch of times by now, the use of force makes the order not-spontaneous, but imposed. This is what I mean by “RJ Eskow’s Rather Easy Questions”: when you don’t take the time to learn the first thing about the ideology you’re attempting to criticize, your attempts to criticize it will make elementary blunders like this one, and pointing out those blunders will be a rather easy task for anyone who actually understands what the ideology is about.

We’re told that “big government” is bad for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is too large to be responsive. But if big governments are bad, why are big corporations so acceptable? What’s more, these massive institutions have been conducting an assault on the individual and collective freedoms of the American people for decades. Why isn’t it important to avoid the creation of monopolies, duopolies and syndicates that interfere with the free market’s ability to function?

It is important to avoid their creation, which is precisely why the state must not get involved. If there’s one thing the state is good at, it might be creating monopolies. This happens when the state sells favors that meddle with the economy’s natural competitive balance. These favors are often called regulations by people like RJ Eskow.

Libertarians are right about one thing: Unchecked and undemocratic force is totalitarian. A totalitarian corporation, or a totalitarian government acting in concert with corporations, is at least as effective at suppressing the “spontaneous order” as a non-corporate totalitarian government. Does our libertarian recognize that large corporations are a threat to our freedoms?

This is the fifth of Eskow’s eleven questions to take the “do you recognize that I’m right?” format. He doesn’t get specific about how this happens, but I’ll get specific for him: it happens when your right to do as you please is restricted by violence or the threat thereof. For so long as corporations are unable to wield violence to coerce you into doing their bidding, your freedoms will be safe and sound from them. And the moment corporations do take up arms to demand you do as they say, they will by definition cease to be corporations and instead become something we libertarians like to call the state. If you still hate them then as avidly as you do now, you can be a libertarian too!


Extra Credit Questions
Most libertarians prefer not to take their philosophy to its logical conclusions. While that may make them better human beings, it also shadows them with the taint of hypocrisy.

Ayn Rand was an adamant opponent of good works, writing that “The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.” That raises another test for our libertarian: Does he think that Rand was off the mark on this one, or does he agree that historical figures like King and Gandhi were “parasites”?

No, I completely disagree with Ayn Rand, and so do many if not most libertarians. Voluntary charity is awesome and should be encouraged, especially those which focus on long-term solutions with some sort of “teach to fish” model. By the way, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are two of the greatest libertarian heroes of all time, because they enacted meaningful and inspiring change by standing up to the state’s violence in peaceful ways.

There’s no reason not to form alliances with civil libertarians, or to shun them as human beings. Their erroneous thinking often arises from good impulses. But it is worth asking them one final question for our test.

Libertarianism would have died out as a philosophy if it weren’t for the funding that’s been lavished on the movement by billionaires like Thiel and the Kochs and corporations like ExxonMobil. So our final question is: If you believe in the free market, why weren’t you willing to accept as final the judgment against libertarianism rendered decades ago in the free and unfettered marketplace of ideas?

Leave aside for the moment the indisputable fact that libertarianism did not, at any point since its invention, die out. Also leave aside that the rise of libertarianism has had much more to do with Ron Paul’s presidential runs and the overwhelming distaste for both major parties than it has with big-government loving, handout-seeking Exxon-freaking-Mobil. Why the hell does belief in the marketplace of ideas require agreeing with the conclusions of people who lived before you? Belief in the marketplace of ideas is about protecting free speech so people can encounter all the evidence, and all the viewpoints, and come to their own conclusions!!! I was going to say this question was beneath you, but then I reconsidered because I’m not so sure it is.

Instead, I’d like to close out by asking Eskow some questions of my own:


  1. If libertarianism’s ideas are so illogical, why do you consistently resort to ad hominem attacks on libertarians themselves and their motivations, rather than engaging with the actual ideas? Shouldn’t it be rather easy to prove people like Peter Theil and the Koch brothers wrong without whining that they only say these things to enrich themselves?

  2. If the absence of examples of libertarian societies working suffices as evidence that libertarianism couldn’t work, wouldn’t the abundance of examples of governments failing be yet more compelling evidence that government doesn’t work? Perhaps libertarianism has never been tried, but big government has been tried thousands of times – and yet it still fails spectacularly on almost every occasion.

  3. If “government created the internet” is proof that anyone who uses the internet and still prefers the private market is a hypocrite, wouldn’t that logic apply in reverse? Wouldn’t anyone who prefers government solutions to market solutions by a hypocrite to use privately made products? And if so, which government made the computer on which you are presently reading this question?

  4. Why does it follow that just because government intervened in the creation of a thing, this thing wouldn’t exist had government not intervened? This applies not only to the internet but to education, banks, etc; all the things you insinuate libertarians are hypocrites for using. Perhaps these things would exist anyway without government intervention, but be better, cheaper, or more widely accessible, etc.

  5. Have any of your political opinions ever been shared by a rich person? If so, does that invalidate them?

  6. Does the decreasing popularity of labor unions make them a bad idea? If not, why does the ebb and flow of an ideology’s political popularity over time strike you as evidence that previously unpopular ideologies should not be revived.

  7. Have you ever read a libertarian text? (no, the Cato Institute’s FAQ page doesn’t count, and neither does Googling “crazy Ayn Rand quotes). If so, why didn’t you mention it in your article? And if not, why do you feel qualified to do battle with its ideas?