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Talk About Your Reality Distortion Field

February 21st, 2010

Bill Maher often does half-assed research and presents a muddled case, but he made an incredibly sharp and cogent point in his “New Rules” segment last night:

Now here’s an amazing statistic. In a recent poll almost ninety percent of Tea Baggers said that they thought taxes had either gone up or stayed the same under Obama. Only two percent thought they went down. But the reality is, taxes have gone down. For ninety five percent of working families, taxes went down.

Think about that. Only two percent of the people in a “movement” about taxes, named after a tax revolt, have the slightest idea what’s going on…with taxes.

That point really does bring home one thing loud and clear: the Tea Baggers are not about taxes, just like the Tea Baggers who crashed town hall meetings last summer screaming against socialized medicine “but keep your government hands off my Medicare” weren’t about health care.

Whether these people are confused, racist, scared, or just downright stupid, they are not about what they claim to be about. They are about hysterical hate and anger and denial. In short, they are emblematic of the right wing of American politics today.

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  1. February 21st, 2010 at 04:07 | #1

    You miss an alternate explanation. This has never been about what the things being done result in right now. It has always been about the long term changes.

    This much money being spent has to paid for at some point. You may believe that it can be offset by some sort of savings in the future.

    We do not.

  2. Luis
    February 21st, 2010 at 10:17 | #2

    Nope. Still doesn’t make sense, otherwise the tea baggers would have become active years ago when Bush sent us $8-10 trillion into debt. Instead they become virulent only the moment Obama shows up. Not to mention that Obama’s health care plan was revenue-neutral, so that doesn’t make sense either.

  3. Luis
    February 21st, 2010 at 11:32 | #3

    Not to mention that if these people were worried about the impact on their personal finances, they’d be huge fans of the health care plans that would reduce rates that are now going sky-high. Not to mention that these people were McCain fans, where McCain advocated smaller tax cuts for people in their brackets (unless tea partiers generally make more than $250,000 a year, which I doubt).

    No, these people are not primarily worried about money, unless they are tremendous idiots.

  4. February 21st, 2010 at 13:24 | #4

    The sheer scale of what has been going on for the last year was a trigger. Most of these people that I have talked to were not big fans of Bush either; but it was the election, and plain disgust with the Republican party that really sent it from grumbling to protesting.

    You are correct that it is not primarily about money however.

    From what I am reading at their blogs, it is really about complete disgust with both parties. That is why the GOP is having such a hard time trying to get in front of it. Since we are mostly conservative libertarians, the Dems are no option for us.

    Before the election, in a conversation you and I were having, you pointed out the discrepancy between the promised goals of the GOP and what they were actually delivering. It was a painful thing to stare at face to face, but undeniable.

    I think that you are fast headed to a similar wake up call. Seriously, after a whole year of essentially unprecedented dominance of congress, they came up with the most blatant giveaway to big business ever seen. The health care bill may as well have been written by the insurance companies. They can make all the excuses they want, but they could have passed anydamnthing they wanted.

    When what someone says they are going to do doesn’t match what their actions… their actions are what they really meant.

  5. Troy
    February 21st, 2010 at 13:27 | #5


    “This much money being spent has to paid for at some point.”

    Money is neither here nor there, so I guess this puts you in the “confused” camp.

    The Teabaggers now have a strong overlap with the doom & gloom Perot supporters of 1991-92.

    Yet the Clinton tax increases of 1993 and the Clinton-House Republican spending restraint of 1995-1999 resulted in a balanced budget by FY99.

    AFAICT the primary fear of teabaggers is simply the same thing that pushed Joe Stack into the IRS building. Fear of government not serving him, but helping out others instead.

    As far as money goes, it is highly fluid and difficult to model. Teabaggers generally think much less taxation would result in an economic paradise, but IMHO lack the perspective and economic understanding to see that taxes and ground rents are generally in zero-sum balance. With lower taxes, ground rents and land values go up in response. We saw this latter effect as part of the Bush land value boom cycle of 2003-2006. The Teabagger policy solution is unworkable on its face, unless one wants to see more of our incomes chase up rents and land values.

    Also, as conservatives Teabaggers don’t believe that government spending increases the general welfare and productivity of the American people. Like everything else, they’re confused about this, too.

    This is not to say that the Teabaggers are necessarily wrong about everything. Their fears are justified to some extent since there is a large amount of instability in the present economic system. The debt over-reach of the last decade, the structural trade imbalances with OPEC and Asia, the declining wealth production capacity of the US (and the severe underutilization of present capacity), the high crime, the unchecked immigration of underskilled workers, one of the worst (in terms of efficiency) health care systems in the world — the US is facing some serious challenges this decade.

    The problem is the Teabaggers in their mindless opposition to government are part of the problem not part of the solution. At best, they want to revert to a more conservative past that wasn’t what they think it was, or otherwise preserve what they have whatever the cost to everyone else. This is the “scared” part of Luis’ categorization of the Teabag movement.

    Teabagging is essentially a live-action demonstration of the GIGO principle.

  6. Troy
    February 21st, 2010 at 13:38 | #6

    Jon :
    The sheer scale of what has been going on for the last year was a trigger.

    Dubious. They’re just getting played by the rightwing noise machine. All the TARP crap was inherited by the Obama team. They’ve managed to apply patches here and there — with GM, mortgage reworking — not 5% of what FDR attempted his first year.

    I think that you are fast headed to a similar wake up call. Seriously, after a whole year of essentially unprecedented dominance of congress, they came up with the most blatant giveaway to big business ever seen.

    No, that would be Medicare Part D.

    The House plan was actually pretty good. The procedural problem was with the Senate, where the 60the vote was the shithead Lieberman, plus several other DINOs like Baucus had their fingers in the pie on that side.

    The health care bill may as well have been written by the insurance companies. They can make all the excuses they want, but they could have passed anydamnthing they wanted.

    No they couldn’t. And at any rate, Obama had a plan but it got shot down around August. He’s not King and just can’t ram bills through parliament like in England 500 years ago.

    When what someone says they are going to do doesn’t match what their actions… their actions are what they really meant.

    Sheer propaganda. More GIGO.

    But as for wakeup calls, I agree that the Dems are on pretty thin ice right now. Progressives like me are thoroughly underwhelmed by Congress’s fuck up of the process. I’ve got mine as far as health care and am a white hetero male so there’s a side of me that would really like to see the present system utterly destroyed by the teabagger / Palin populist revolt.

    I speak Japanese and Chinese and bailed on this country in 1992 and am ready and able to do it again.

  7. Luis
    February 21st, 2010 at 13:43 | #7


    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see the Dems as being saints, either. But, as Libertarian Bill Maher puts it, they are beholden to a somewhat less scary crowd of special interests.

    The sheer scale of what has been going on for the last year was a trigger.

    Again, I don’t see it that way–else they would have exploded at the point of the subprime crisis when Bush gave away almost a trillion dollars with no strings attached. And let’s face it, there were tons of triggers during the Bush years. I think that the core of the tea party movement was around for all of that–and they are the honest tea-baggers–but the sheer mass cult that has accumulated at this point jumped on the bandwagon when Obama came into focus, using, I think, the ideological credibility of the tea-bagger movement as a draw. That movement has now been swamped by those who don’t truly share the real core of that original movement.

    I think that you are fast headed to a similar wake up call. Seriously, after a whole year of essentially unprecedented dominance of congress, they came up with the most blatant giveaway to big business ever seen. The health care bill may as well have been written by the insurance companies. They can make all the excuses they want, but they could have passed anydamnthing they wanted.

    I see your point, but disagree strongly: the Dems put up what was, for them, a hell of a fight to get passed health care reform with real teeth. It was sheer Republican obstructionism that made it into a giveaway for the insurance companies. You might claim that the Dems set this up, that they began with something that would have seriously hurt the insurance industry knowing in advance that the Republicans would knock it down, and that their weak-kneed capitulation has all been a secretly coordinated act to get the legislation to be the insurance company giveaway that they clandestinely desired. But we both know that that’s not the case–the Dems are nowhere near that clever or organized.

    Had the Republicans simply let the Democrats do what they wanted, the Dems would have passed health care with a strong public option and all the other features that would have forced the insurance companies to be honest. While I am sure there are many Dems on the payroll of the lobbying firms, they were not predominant in the party. A 51-vote majority would have passed strong, honest health care reform about 9 months ago.

    While I am disgusted with the Democrats, it is not for being in the pockets of the insurance industry, but for being weak-kneed, lily-livered cowards unwilling to muster a single pair of testicles among them and pass what they really want to, by hook or by crook. And you cannot lay the current form of the bill on their doorstep, considering that left to themselves they would never have passed such a bill.

  8. February 21st, 2010 at 14:36 | #8

    Actually Troy, the bailout was a major trigger. Things take time. Disgust with McCain was another. The prospect of what a democrat dominated congress/presidency was expected to do was the final straw.

    As far as Obama not being king, I wasn’t referring to him at all. Unlike a depressing portion of conservatives, I see no reason to lay every little thing at his feet. Passing legislation is congress’s job, period.

    And I stand by what I said. Democrats had enough votes that what the GOP did should have been irrelevant. If they had been serious about passing something good, they would have done it.

    And this statement : “When what someone says they are going to do doesn’t match what their actions… their actions are what they really meant.”

    Invariably true over any length of time. True accidents are rare and not repeated. Sustained action is always purposeful.


    I agree with you that the ‘tea party movement’ has been to some extent co-opted. Libertarianism doesn’t really lend itself to coherency in the first place. Like herding cats. Without a coherent message or platform, hard to keep out people who are just trying to exploit the energy. I don’t know how much you can really say the movement has a core, other than being fed up with the current parties.

    I think you are deluding yourself about the democrats, though. If they could have passed a bill with 51 votes, they would just have had to work harder to find excuses. The House is not so bad, but the Senate….

    As a slightly off thought, I think it is a bit of a mistake to think of the tea party movement in a right/left sense. Libertarianism as a philosophy exists somewhat perpendicular to that axis.

  9. February 22nd, 2010 at 11:40 | #9


    If these folks are all concerned about the “long-term” effects of today’s spending, where were they 14 months ago, or 3 years ago, or in 2003 and 2001 when Bush was actually putting into motion the changes that would lead to all this debt being racked up?

    The vast majority- and I mean the VAST majority- of the deficit and debts that we added last year, and will be adding this year and the next several years- are either directly attributable to President Bush, or to the economic downturn (and you can assign blame for that as you see fit; personally I think Bush deserves only some of the blame, Congress deserves more, and We the People deserve some, too.)

    Some of the blame goes to the war in Afghanistan (a needed war) and some of it goes to the war in Iraq (unnecessary and an incredible waste of time, money, and lives). Bush gets the blame for Iraq.

    Here’s a chart showing what I mean:

    In case that doesn’t come through, you can see the chart on this page:


    The reality is that these Tea Party types didn’t give a rip about the debt when it was (white Republican) George W Bush racking them up. Now that it’s (black Democrat) Barack Obama doing it, they’re all upset and concerned about the “long-term effects”.

    Where were these people when the Republican Congress was passing the Medicare prescription drug plan, which is the biggest entitlement granted in decades? Quiet as church mice.

    I think it really all boils down to the fact that a small but significant percentage of people can’t hack a black dude being President.

  10. Troy
    February 22nd, 2010 at 13:59 | #10


    or to the economic downturn (and you can assign blame for that as you see fit; personally I think Bush deserves only some of the blame, Congress deserves more, and We the People deserve some, too.)

    The masses are asses. You hand out loans like candy and of course nearly everyone will refi their maxed out cards, buy a string of speculative properties, and only think short-term gains, hoping to find a greater fool or just refi out of disaster.

    This is how bubbles work, and have been known to work since _The Madness of Crowds_ was published 150+ years ago.

    That’s the whole point of the state, to establish some static quality in the system, to establish limits and maintain sustianiability of the system. That’s what government means — the greek root is common with cyber, which means “to steer”.

    The central failure was the Fed not taking away the punchbowl in the 2004-2005 time period. I believe the PtB were riding a tiger by then and were hoping to boost the economy enough to prevent a repeat of Bush I’s fizzled reelection.

    Greenspan began raising rates in mid-2004 but was pushing on a string; what with ez Option ARMs, expanded consumer lending by firms like Countrywide, WaMu, and several hundred other outfits, combined with the securitization back-end provided by Wall Street, the bubble machine had a momentum of its own and nobody dared to take throttle it down, until it began to tear itself apart in early 2007.

    Net mortgage lending was $500B in 2001, and that was a pretty good year compared to the late 90s where mortgage lending was being held under $400B by high interest rates. This is what happened then:

    2002: $700B
    2003: $870B
    2004: $930B
    2005: $1.03T
    2006: $970B
    2007: $660B

    For 2008, this number was -$60B — the bubble machine was broken.

    Wages were flat during this period so this was all just temporary asset valuation and not a secular trend with any real-world basis.

    The shoot-up in land values spurred massive investment in fake income flows to millions of Americans, both in wages for construction and durable housing goods, and the ability to roll consumer debt into mortgage debt.

    A trillion is a lot of money to pump into the system via home loans, and the Fed allowed this for THREE YEARS, 2004-2006.

    These trillion dollar injections supported 20 MILLION $50K/yr jobs.

    Anyone with a brain knew it was going to end badly. I certainly did, by late 2006 when I first discovered the extent of the lending fraud that was being allowed — people like Casey Serin with no great income getting a handful of “owner-occupied” loans for a dozen properties all over the country.

    Real Estate is THE critical sector of the economy. It is the source and the sink of all our wealth. It costs nothing to make but we all must pay dearly for it.

    I don’t know which is worse, the PtB knew what they were doing 2004-2006 or DIDN’T know what they were doing 2004-2006.

  11. Troy
    February 22nd, 2010 at 14:04 | #11


    Now that it’s (black Democrat) Barack Obama doing it, they’re all upset and concerned about the “long-term effects”.

    This is not entirely fair. The national debt numbers coming out now are pretty sobering. Things weren’t looking ~that~ bad 2002-2006, thanks to being papered over by the bubble blowing.

    As far as DC goes, it is not hypocritical or tinfoil-hat to believe we’re on a very dangerous course right now.

    Even tax raises back to Clinton levels aren’t going to come for free. Real Estate prices have adjusted up to match the upper class’s increased buying power, and will adjust downwards. This will have a follow-on effect in the lower tiers of the housing market.

    The dominant expense in nearly everyone’s life is housing, yet since we do not buffer these expenses we experience boom/bust cycles that blow everyone’s balance sheets up. Happens like clockwork.

  12. Tim Kane
    February 24th, 2010 at 16:54 | #12

    My two bits…

    The Tea Party phenomina is just a big fraud. It’s astroturf movement constructed by a bunch of lobbyist, with the help of Fox News. Its the demarcation between the Uber-Rich-Republicans that control the party and the useful-idiots they rely on to give them the numbers to be competitive in semi-democratic process.

    Okay, hear me now and see me later: America is based upon one principle – Free Contract.

    That’s it.

    Libertarians, then, only get half of the story.

    In such a society, bargaining power is EVERYTHING.

    Everything that goes on … advertising, politics, even personal grooming is all about individuals or groups of individuals trying to extend their bargaining power.

    Rich people of course, know this. The Republican party is the part of the super rich and moneyed interest. Their goal is the ever concentration of wealth and power.

    They of course resent the New Deal for doing the opposite.

    The problem is, they don’t have the numbers. So they fish around for other groups that have resentments to accumulate their numbers: Racist who resent the civil rights era, social conservatives who resent civil liberties, nationalist who resent the outcome of the Vietnam war and so on….

    In other words, Tea Partiers.

    The problem is… the Tea partier’s never get what they want, but the rich always get what they want.

    Median wage hasn’t gone up since 1972, but GNP has gone up 150%. Bush moved 5 to 10 trillion dollars from demand side of the economy to the supply side of the economy, essentially giving 3000 families 5 trillion dollars at the expense of 100 million families (Median family income went down 5% from 2001 to 2005, while the top .01% went up 500%… a direct correlation).

    The tea partiers are all resenters, who are driven by their resentments… in fact controled by them. The rich republicans know this and manipulate this and use this to get their numbers up.

    You might as well call them suckers. Or Chumps.

    They are surrendering their bargaining power for the sake of chasing phantom culture wars embedded in their resentments.

    The culture wars ended in 1790 with the passage of the bill or rights. Class war, however goes on and at this point, the Supreme Court just crowned the Rich triumphant a month ago.

    The Health Care issue exposes all of this. By now the evidence is in. Their are about 20 1st world nations, none of them have our system, and all of them have better health care at lower price, in the aggregate. None of the arguments by Republicans are supported by outcomes any where else on the globe. The evidence is irrefutable. The current system kills more than 10 times the number that died on 9/11 every year, year in and year out… and we allow this, because it’s not rich people dying. It’s people with no bargaining power.

    The one thing all the resenters have in common is that they would just as soon ruin the United States then have their grievances ignored.

    Tea Party? Suckers? Chumps? It’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

    And the country has been ruined. Money does not trickle down. Money is concentrated, and power follows it. It won’t reverse in our life time. By 2020 we will be looking up to Brazil with envy.

  13. Tim Kane
    February 24th, 2010 at 17:04 | #13

    By the way the comments here have ALL been great. Even Jon who bravely argued the position of the suck, er, the Tea Partiers.

    I’ll admit their resentments are real, so their anger is real. So were those of right wing Germans after their defeat in WWI. Their resentment drove them to refight that war. Finally, when their country lied in utter ruin and was divided and occupied by its sworn enemies, the point of losing WWI disappeared.

    The point is, resentments lead to a desire to turn back the clock of history… which is a bit like trying to make water run up hill. Just ask the Germans.

    A better, smarter, wiser approach would be to embrace the march of history.

  14. Troy
    February 26th, 2010 at 18:34 | #14

    ^ conservatives ain’t gonna do that. Change bad. Bring back the 50s.

    The 1850s. When banks were banks and men were free.

  15. February 28th, 2010 at 08:20 | #15

    Luis, this is off topic, but this thread seems to have run it’s course and I would like to hear your perspective.

    A powerful if rarely stated view from the libertarians is that the effective goal of progressives is to essentially reduce everyone to the state of children. The justification for a large portion of progressive policies, healthcare being a prime example, can be boiled down to the proposition that people cannot be trusted to make wise decisions on their own, so the government must make those decisions for them.

    I am not interested in arguing the accuracy of the position; we have fundamentally different philosophies and values. Even if we were to agree on (and know) every pertinent fact, we would likely still disagree.

    What I am interested in is hearing your perspective on this. I am as certain as anyone can ever be about about someone else’s thoughts that you do not see it this way, but I would like to understand why.

  16. Luis
    February 28th, 2010 at 12:06 | #16

    Note: please read the addenda below this in addition to this comment before responding. Thanks.

    Fair question, if not a fair assumption. I think that to characterize progressives as those who “essentially reduce everyone to the state of children” is kind of like saying that the essence of the conservative philosophy is to essentially eliminate all social support so that the weak starve and die in the street while only the strong survive, or that libertarians are about inducing a state of total anarchy and societal collapse leading to invasion from without. In short, it over-generalizes the philosophy and then adds an ad hominem spin to it. The characterization you refer to is an attack screed focusing on certain elements of progressive ideals, not an honest attempt to analyze the philosophy. And frankly, it is not so “rarely” stated–I have heard it often (especially recently), though usually piecemeal and referenced within other contexts. It is all too familiar.

    If you want to boil down the progressive philosophy as much as possible, it is the ideal of government serving the people to allow the greatest individual freedom while creating a support system so that everyone’s basic needs are met and no one is left to suffer without minimal succor. It is the philosophy that we care about each other enough to create that support system, just like a family–if your brother falls on hard times and needs help, you don’t kick him out into the street to starve in the cold, you take care of him. As a society, that is what progressives aspire to: we don’t want to be cold, heartless, and selfish so that those in dire straits are shoved out the door. We know that if we were in their position, we would want a helping hand, so we strive to meet the needs of all who are in trouble. We would rather suffer with a deadbeat brother than to shove grandpa out into the snow, if that’s what adhering to the philosophy requires.

    What I find fascinating is that this is, in fact, a very Christian philosophy–in that it is Christ-like, what you would imagine Christ would do (in fact, what he would likely focus on primarily) if he were running the show–and yet the Christians tend to be more conservative, more on the social-darwinist side.

    This system requires that we set up a series of safety nets, often sneered at as “entitlements” by the right wingers. The irony is that when they become eligible for each of these “entitlements,” these same right-wingers tend to be the first in line to snatch them up, become aggressively defensive about them, and at the same time try their hardest to deny them to others. Witness Medicare and the recent town-hall right-wingers who simultaneously demanded that no one touch that entitlement as it pertained to them, but just as insistently demanded that it not be extended to others.

    The safety nets we generally recognize include Social Security (so that the elderly are assured a comfortable retirement, not at all the case before the system was created), health care (no one should have to choose between health of a family member and abject poverty, or be forced to watch a loved one die of an easily treatable ailment), and welfare (a catch-all term which refers to most support mechanisms such as food stamps, public housing, etc. to those who cannot find work or earn enough to support themselves).

    The interesting thing is that this is not really “progressive” in many ways–it is, in fact, a more universal philosophy. It is hard to find a wealthy nation that does not provide these support systems for its people. And while conservatives tend to dislike these things, they find that they cannot attack them directly exactly because they are both so popular and to remove them would be seen as heartless and cruel. And yet they attempt to vilify these systems and dismantle them tangentially at every opportunity because they see them as huge money drains–money that could be going to more tax cuts and more corporate welfare in the form of military spending and handouts to patron industries. In other words, money that could be put into their own pockets. Conservatives are not about cutting taxes for most Americans, they are not about reducing government, they are not about fiscal responsibility; as we have recently witnessed from the Bush years, they are more about transferring wealth to their own sphere, with only minimal sops to the middle class and a complete disregard for the dangers of deficit spending for the purpose of that self-enrichment.

    As to “the proposition that people cannot be trusted to make wise decisions on their own, so the government must make those decisions for them,” this is simply an ad hominem attack aimed at progressives in general. It is not based in the least in fact. Think about it–what does it refer to? Exactly what decisions are being taken out of the hands of the people? What decisions are progressives trying to make that conservatives are not? Generally, it boils down to money: the claim is that while progressives want to take all your money away from you so they can spend it wisely, conservatives/libertarians want you to keep your money so you can decide how to spend it on your own. That’s the bugaboo: Obama is a socialist who doesn’t think you’re smart enough to spend your own money, so he wants to confiscate it so he can spend it more wisely. Ignore the fact that he has only instituted tax cuts or that he proposed more money in the hands of most Americans than did conservatives. Instead, a bald-faced lie about how he wants all your money is propagated while the plain facts are dismissed. This is the argument made for conservative tax cuts which, invariably, tend to favor the wealthy most of all and the average American the least. At best, it applies only to very wealthy people who feel they unduly support a system which coddles lazy people who leech off of them.

    In reality, progressives want the average American to pay less in taxes than conservatives do. Witness the last election and the tax plans proposed by each candidate. Obama’s plan was more generous to those making less than $100,000 a year, while McCain’s plan was more generous to those making above that amount. In short, if one sees lower taxes as “making wise decisions on their own,” then Obama believed that most Americans were better able to do so, while McCain thought that the wealthy were better equipped than the average American to do that.

    But the fact is that the whole “making decisions for people” line is unadulterated crap. Progressives tend to be more open and inclusive, allowing more individual contribution to the societal decision-making process; conservatives are the ones who tend to be more closed, secretive, and imperial.

    The key difference here is in the high end of Obama’s tax plan, where he would raise the tax rate of millionaires by a few percentage points–measly by most first-world standards, but unacceptable to the privileged in our country.

    Essentially, the key point of contention is that liberals believe that America, as a nation, created the foundation upon which and the safe environment in which the rich acquired their wealth, and therefore they both can afford to pay a bit more to support the less fortunate and are obliged to do so under the social contract we share–a contract these people would demand be met if their investments turned sour and they really needed that social security and medicare support. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be more of a grabby crowd–I’ve got mine, you go get your own, social darwinism expressed in a sense of independent, by-your-own-bootstraps, can-do American entrepreneurism that rewards hard work, but tends to ignore those who don’t succeed, assuming they will be taken care of by wealthy patrons privately but let’s not pay too close attention to that. But, as noted, these same conservatives grab for the safety nets progressives fight to maintain, while at the same time they try to dismantle the same safety nets for others. In essence, it is an attitude of self-centered acquisition and–let’s say it, greed–which is popular among those who do not succeed based upon a mixture of propaganda they buy into and the pipe dream that someday they’ll hit it big.

    You’ll note that I primarily reference this in terms of progressive and conservative ideals. I do so because I would like to leave the Libertarian space open for you–could you write here what you see as the Libertarian philosophy and how it fits into the structure as we are discussing it?

  17. Luis
    February 28th, 2010 at 14:11 | #17

    After having left, eaten lunch, come back and re-read this, there are a few qualifications and clarifications I would like to add. For example, I did not cover all bases of progressive ideology–for example, I did not cover basic economics such as progressive taxation, an overall setup which I am sure Libertarians would have quite a bone to pick about. I tried to focus on what the criticisms you specifically stated tended to address.

    When I said “suffer with a deadbeat brother,” I did not mean to acquiesce and let him walk all over me/us; it would have been better to put it as “deal with” a deadbeat brother, in which you tolerate only so much before cutting off all but the most drastic of support. Despite Reaganesque characterizations of bleeding-heart liberals empowering welfare queens, that is not what progressives espouse or wish to allow.

    I would also include education as one of the big entitlements. I know most people don’t, and that it occupies a different place in our system of government than do social security and health care–but it should be more centrally funded, and it should cost a lot more, because it is one of three sure-fire investments that is virtually guaranteed to pay off in the long run (the other two being scientific research and infrastructure). But education is an “entitlement,” as it is funded by taxpayer dollars and distributed amongst the population in general as a free social service. In some ways, it is even more an “entitlement” than most other items on that list.

    By the time I got to the “wise decisions” point, I had transferred pretty much fully into the progressive-conservative mode. I recognize that Libertarians may view much of what government does as unnecessary and should be abolished and put into individual hands. The thing is, the “liberals think you’re not wise enough to make your own decisions” line has been co-opted by conservatives, who use it now more than Libertarians do. From a strict viewpoint, and in light of what conservatives have actually done (as opposed to the talk they talk), this accusation from Libertarians should be aimed as much at conservatives as it is at progressives, something that I haven’t heard of much.

    Also, for the Libertarian ideals I hope you’ll express, I would very much like to hear about the functionality of the system. For example, if banking and other business regulation is to be repealed, how then do we avoid complete corruption and breakdown such as what we have witnessed whenever conservatives relax those controls to a certain degree? If education spending is to be more localized instead of more centralized, then how do you address the spiral of poverty when poorer parents cannot afford to educate their children as well as more wealthy people? In other words, general philosophy is fine, but how do you make it actually function?

  18. February 28th, 2010 at 15:43 | #18

    I wasn’t really trying for fair, I was just presenting a onesided view. I say it is rarely stated because it is one of those things that gets shorthanded because it is understood within the group. I will disagree that it is an ad hominem attack at least in the sense that it is an honestly held belief, regardless of it’s accuracy.

    As far as the impoverished deadbeat relative analogy goes, I have a scumbag uncle. Drugs, prison, stealing from my Grandmother, the usual scumbag stuff. Eventually, my Grandmother moved out of state to my folk’s property to get away from him. Predictably, the next time uncle scumbag got in trouble he was on a bus to our town. Dad picked him up from the bus station when he called… and dropped him off at the mission. Twenty years of constantly being saved by his family when he hit rock bottom and no change. Having that cut off got him to actually get his life together. He has a masters degree now. He’s still kinda a scumbag, but there is a pretty huge difference in scale.

    Point is, “stupid should hurt”. Negative consequences are what drive improved decisions. Remove the consequences, and you remove the impetus to improve. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we think what progressives are doing is making it worse. Almost every libertarian I know has been dirt poor. We accepted that this was the result of our actions, and we changed those actions to achieve the life we wanted, or at least as close to it as we were willing to make the sacrifices for. While I would love to own my own island, and I am quite confident I could do so with the appropriate actions, I am just unwilling to put forth that much effort. My life is what I made it. Yours is what you made it.

    As far as making other peoples choices, consider health care. Roughly half of America wants nothing to do with it, but the core of the plan is that you will join it whether you want to or not, under penalty of law. Now, you can say that this is because they don’t know what the plan really is and they would want to join if they did, but isn’t that exactly my point? See also : Seatbelt laws, helmet laws, gun safety laws, many of the more obnoxious building codes, ‘corporate average fuel efficiency’.

    Or, short answer : “individual mandate”.

    Consider a favorite talking point from the last elections, that conservatives were ‘voting against their own best interests’. Have you ever stopped to think about how incredibly arrogant it is to think you can define what someone else’s best interests are? ( It is definitely worth saying that I am using the term ‘you’ in a VERY general sense here )

    (odd thought… the liberal plan entwines the insurance companies into everything, the conservative plan would actually remove them from the vast majority of health care. Kind of flips the pro-big-business views on this one.)

    Libertarian philosophy… hmmm, how to put this?

    “Freedom must include the freedom to fail.” Failure is the consequence of decisions and actions, you cannot remove failure from the system without constraining those decisions and actions.

    “Responsibility IS power. Power IS responsibility.” It is fundamentally impossible to increase someone’s power while at the same time denying their responsibility.

    The social Darwinism description is actually pretty fair. Progress usually comes from a thousand stubborn people all going their own way come hell or high water. Nine hundred and ninety nine usually fail, but that one who succeeds is the one who makes the discoveries. And who is to say that the others ‘failed’ by their own definitions? The crazy guy in the shack out in the backwoods of Montana may be dirt poor, without what you or I might consider the most basic necessities; but if that is the life he chooses, who are we to tell him otherwise?

    It is actually somewhat difficult to convey to people how non-religious I am. The best description is probably to say that I often have to stop and remind myself that other people actually really seriously believe this stuff. But I have and likely will again stepped up to defend their right to have whatever bizarre opinions they have, and to speak them as they see fit. And when they try to force their views onto other’s actions, I will oppose them just as strongly.

    In a more abstract sense, where social engineering is necessary (say, managing Pigovian costs) Libertarians favor altering the generating forces in the system over managing the details of the system. For example, carbon taxes over cap and trade. Actually, I have a theory that this is a liberal/conservative divide, and may actually be a cause of why people end up on different sides of that divide (I am talking philosophy, not the political movements.)

    Liberals believe in the rights of ‘the people’. Libertarians believe in the rights of ‘people’. For just one word, it is not a small difference at all.

  19. February 28th, 2010 at 18:24 | #19

    Sorry about missing your addendum, it posted between when I started my reply and when I finished it. I take a while to organize my thoughts into text. I will get back on the rest tomorrow, I hear my bed calling me.

    On the libertarians vs conservatives thing: “What she said.”

    PS. How do you make the comments anchor to the right like that? I figured the reply button would do that, but it just gave me a link to my own post.

  20. Luis
    February 28th, 2010 at 18:37 | #20

    PS. How do you make the comments anchor to the right like that? I figured the reply button would do that, but it just gave me a link to my own post.

    That’s something the blog software does automatically, reserved for the blog author’s posts only (sorry!). But you can utilize a good deal of html, IIANM–either nobody tries the “blockquote” command for the quote boxes, or else it only works for me somehow…

  21. March 1st, 2010 at 06:59 | #21

    To expand on the libertarian vs conservative concept, some definitions are needed. I would actually define myself as a conservative; which I would define as a tendency to focus relatively more on the costs of a change, as opposed to liberals who focus more on the benefits. Obviously, this is a sliding scale not an absolute.

    On the perpendicular scale I am a libertarian, which focuses on maintaining the maximum potential for each person to choose their own life and values, as opposed to a collectivist approach which is more willing to constrain individuals for the overall good of society.

    What you define as ‘conservative’ I would define as the Religious Right and the Social Conservatives. By my definitions, they are conservative/collectivist, while Progressives are liberal/collectivist. From a libertarian point of view, the Religious Right and the Progressives are at least as closely related as the hodge-podge that makes up the ‘right’ currently. Both groups are trying to force America into their version of what they want it to look like, they just have different notions of what that should be.

    So why then do we generally group with the conservative movement? Because they are weaker. Really, they are a slowly dying breed. They lack the power to really push their lifestyle and beliefs onto others in any large sense; they are just fighting to keep them intact for themselves now. Every now and again, they still push, but when they do the libertarians who make up a larger portion of the ‘right’ than I think anyone really realizes either abandon them to get their butts kicked by the ‘left’, or increasingly we fight them directly.

    Consider the CPAC convention. Some godbag stands up to complain about gay rights groups being invited, and gets booed off stage. Think about what it means that this year, gay rights activists were more welcome at a conservative convention than the Religious Right. Make no mistake, we will get into the trenches to fight for their right to be small minded bigots to their little hearts desire; but we will not tolerate them pushing it onto others. In many ways, that is the libertarian social agenda in a nutshell.

    On the government and economics side, I think the ‘left’ and perhaps the general public really overstates the minimalist nature of the libertarians. Last time I spoke to someone about it, she was under the impression that we want to disband the fire department! Not so much. We do have definite ideas about what is and is not the proper role of government. In principal some of the main ones are:

    Government actions should always be implemented at the lowest level possible. To follow up on your education example, schools should be local, and any parent should have the right to find alternate schooling for their children without having to pay twice. Public schools are crap, precisely because they have guaranteed customers with no other choice. Vouchers provide a clear ‘market’ signal that will show exactly where the problems are, and allow solutions to be found. Give people enough opportunities to try their own approach, you can bet someone will find a better way. Then most everyone else will follow that pattern, not because they have to be forced to, but because it is better.

    Social engineering should be viewed not as a good thing but rather as a necessary evil. It should be done in well and narrowly defined ways, so that it can be easily examined for effectiveness and appropriateness as the situation evolves. It should very nearly never be used in a permanent role. To continue the education example, some areas will be underfunded, creating the exact downward spiral you predict. At a state level, an education fund with an extremely narrow mandate would be responsible for providing distributed fund to those areas. Note that a voucher system prevents this from rewarding bad schools. A similar program at a national level helps out the poorer states.

    You might at first think that this is not really so different than what we do now, but the key is the extremely narrow mandate and stand alone nature. The process must be done with a simple and transparent selection process and no sub-goals. The current method of entwining social engineering into every damn policy creates these gigantic, incomprehensible laws that are gold mines for manipulation and exploitation. Corporations and interest groups will always have far more lawyers and clever people looking for ways to make the system do what they want than the government will have to keep things on target. The more complex the system, the more certain it is that they will take control.

    As far as economic controls go, a similar philosophy applies. Simple, broad controls are by their very nature harder to subvert than complex plans with literally thousands of exceptions. An example of a good policy is the FDIC. It exerts a stabilizing force on the bank/consumer relationship that eliminated bank runs entirely, at near negligible cost. And it has worked for what? 70 years? Contrast that with the health care reform, which is up to 2700 pages last I heard. Can you really believe that there is any hope that the affected corporations are not going to find literally thousands of ways to twist this into something you would find reprehensible?

    How about a simpler solution? Get the hidden subsidies and social engineering out of health care and let me actually buy real insurance. Insurance is for costs that cannot be realistically planned for, not predictable dentist cleaning visits. That’s just stupid. Take the tax deduction businesses get for employer contributions to insurance and give them the option of applying that same deduction to REAL health savings accounts, not this crippled garbage they have now. I see studies showing how HSA’s don’t work and all I can think is “no crap!”. The current HSA’s are intentionally crippled to keep them from working. Make HSA’s an account you have at your bank, FDIC insured just like any other account. Let it accrue for years. Think how much money will be in there after working for 50 years; Medicare would become simply irrelevant after time.

    Don’t think that’s a good idea? That’s the beauty of the plan. No one wants to force you to join! Try your way. If it’s better, time will tell.

    OK, this has gotten way to long, and of course I really haven’t covered a fraction of what I think. An entire philosophy cannot be contained in a blog comment.

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