Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Thoughts on Obama

A number of commenters asked why I preferred Obama to McCain; nobody seemed surprised that I prefer Obama to Clinton.

McCain strikes me as a nationalist, likely to be comfortable with retaining and even expanding on the increases in executive authority claimed by Bush. He is also the one pro-war candidate. War, as observed long ago, is the health of the state. While there may be circumstances where all other alternatives are worse, I do not think this qualifies.

Perhaps I am too optimistic about Obama, but I do not think he is going to turn out to be an orthodox liberal. There is a group of intellectuals connected with the University of Chicago who have accepted a good deal of the Chicago school analysis but still want to think of themselves as leftists. They are, as I see it, trying to construct a new version of what "left" means. Examples would be Cass Sunstein and Austan Goolsby, both at Chicago, and Larry Lessig, who used to be there.

Sunstein describes himself as a libertarian paternalist, meaning that he wants to take advantage of elements of irrationality in individual decision making to nudge people into making what he considers the right decisions, while leaving them free not to if they so wish. Goolsby, judging by webbed pieces of his I've read, is a pro-market economist who happens to be a Democrat, rather like Alfred Kahn, who gave us airline dereguation under Carter. He is also Obama's economic advisor. I do not agree with all his views—for details of one disagreement see an earlier post—but I like them better than the views usually supported by Democratic politicians and their advisors.

Obama himself, while obviously constrained by the fact that he is trying to get nominated, has occasionally let things slip that suggest a more libertarian view than typical of liberal senators. At one point he said something mildly favorable about school vouchers, retreating rapidly under pressure from the teachers' unions, and similarly with marijuana decriminalization. His most visible disagreement with Clinton is over her plan to force everyone to buy health insurance. He appears uncomfortable with that degree of coercion, even though he is willing to use the less direct version—taxation to subsidize the insurance that he thinks people ought to have.

Bush was elected on a pro-market, small government, platform and proceeded to greatly expand the size of government—and not only in the form of military spending. His view of the legitimate power of the executive branch, including the authority to deliberately violate federal law, I find frightening. Perhaps, if we are lucky, Obama will turn out to be the anti-Bush.

42 Comments:

At 10:02 PM, May 07, 2008, Blogger Joe Bingham said...

I thought the same about Obama at first, but since Edwards dropped out, Obama's campaign has degenerated into the same economic populist garbage that Edwards typified, right down to the "two americas: you and big oil" hogwash and pandering to farmers.

Speaking of which, if McCain will quote Mencken's "The Husbandman," he will have my vote, no further questions.

Back to the topic, I think Obama seems like a naturally polite and thoughtful far-left politician, but I don't think that means he has libertarian leanings, except perhaps on immigration (and abortion, on which I'm with Paul anyway =/ ).

 
At 10:06 PM, May 07, 2008, Blogger Joe Bingham said...

My biggest concern is that Obama will make be another FDR, making economic know-nothing populism popular for another two full generations. Even if his personal reasoning is more thoughtful, if he's employing the know-nothing populist rhetoric (anti-trade, anti-profit) that won't matter as far as its effect on public perception.

We'll have to have, like, two more of your dad to undo the damage! :)

 
At 10:20 PM, May 07, 2008, Anonymous Pablo Escobar said...

I agree, Obama is preferable. At least he's saying the right things. But then again, George Bush campaigned on a "humble" foreign policy and no "nation building" in 2000, and we all know how that turned out.

The growth in government is a bi-partisan post WWII policy. So I'm not optimistic that Obama will be able to hold out when the special interests come knocking. Ron Paul would be able to as his voting record shows strength of character (compare it to Obama's pro-Iraq war funding votes), but he's not viable.

I would just vote for the LP candidate to send a message.

 
At 10:30 PM, May 07, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"I would just vote for the LP candidate to send a message."

That is what I expect I will do. I didn't say I planned to vote for him, merely that I preferred him to the other two.

 
At 12:38 AM, May 08, 2008, Anonymous Joe Music said...

Preferring Obama to McCain is a no-brainer. McCain = 4 more years of George W. Bush's failed economic & foreign policy thus voting for McCain = insane.

Obama is an honest, intelligent man who has the plans we need to get America back on track.

We need to enter the 21st century. We're now 8 years behind.

 
At 6:30 AM, May 08, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does Obama's supposed libertarianism mesh with his liberal voting record?

He certainly talks a good game about trying new things, but is there any evidence to suggest that he will actually try new approaches?

- Sean

 
At 7:11 AM, May 08, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Thanks for this post. My read of Obama has also been "left" libertarian. It is especially difficult to read the tea leaves at this point in a two stage winner-take-all election in which there is pressure to differentiate from two directions. But I have also noticed some hints in that direction. And the lesson about presidents not being tied to their campaign promises is indeed one that Bush voters will not forget for a long time.

 
At 8:36 AM, May 08, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greg Mankiw pointed out a while back that applying Bayes' rule to the Intrade presidential race prediction market suggested that Clinton was more likely to get the nomination but less likely to get elected President, hence that she is less "electable." I wonder what's changed?

 
At 8:55 AM, May 08, 2008, Anonymous Whswhs said...

To my mind, the interesting thing about Obama's candidacy is that he seems to be bringing some new groups of voters to the Democratic Party. As Ronald Reagan's capture of the fundamentalist and evangelical vote for the Republican Party showed, a political party cannot simply add on a new constituency while remaining unchanged; the need to maintain its appeal to the new constituency will change it.

Obama's appeal to the black vote is not going to make much difference to the Democratic Party, of course; they have been appealing to black voters since the days of FDR. But some of the other demographics that support him may make more of a difference:

* Young voters have not been much involved in the political process. But it's going to have a big impact on them, as they get stuck with the entitlement bill for boomers like you and me.

* Obama seems to have a stronger appeal to independent voters, particularly in Western states. This population is sometimes described as having comparatively libertarian attitudes—and libertarians are an increasingly poor fit in the Republican Party; perhaps some of those independent voters are at least small-l libertarians.

* Obama's support from wealthier Democrats, and from Democrats with college education or more, may be proxying for support from what Richard K. Florida called "the creative class": people who earn their living from producing content, and who tend to be socially tolerant, cosmopolitan, and supportive of freedom of expression.

* The big religious split in Pennsylvania had a bit over 50% of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews favoring Clinton, while a huge majority of "other" and "none" favored Obama. At this point, it's estimated that around 10% of the American population is nonreligious (although a much smaller percentage call themselves either "atheist" or "agnostic"); neither political party has captured their vote, but clearly the Republicans aren't very interested in doing so—and they're a fairly big potential voting bloc, twice as big as the Jews and also bigger than GLBT voters; in fact, they roughly compare to blacks in numbers.

If Obama gets the nomination and wins, the Democrats are going to need to shift their positions and their platforms to retain those constituencies. If Obama gets the nomination and loses, we'll probably see a return to the older Democratic constituencies, though likely with the party increasingly divided by resentments between different "identity" groups. If Clinton somehow snatches the nomination at the last minute, the same problem will emerge, I think, but faster and harder.

 
At 9:30 AM, May 08, 2008, Blogger scojo said...

Very sensible post. Barack Obama is a smart guy. He's surrounded himself with smart advisors and seems to take the advice of Goolsbee et. al very seriously. The Republicans don't seem to be able to govern effectively. They're in thrall to the cranks and charlatans who say that tax cuts will pay for themselves. That, plus the fact that McCain doesn't even seem to understand his own foreign policy and I know who's got my vote. In my view, given the current state of affairs, a libertarian would have to be a fool or a knave to support the Republican party.

 
At 9:55 AM, May 08, 2008, Blogger Ranjit Mathoda said...

Obama's The Audacity of Hope contains a number of surprising observations, which I've described as concisely but thoroughly as I could in my book review at http://mathoda.com/archives/174. I've also thought about how Obama has used technology in his campaign and intends to use it as a president and have described that at http://mathoda.com/archives/189

 
At 2:20 PM, May 08, 2008, Anonymous Patrick R. Sullivan said...

I know someone who has debated Obama, who tells me he is very smart and geniune person. Coming from my exceptionally smart--academic economist--friend, it's high praise.

However, I've been studiously trying to see some flicker of what I've been told, in Obama, and I can't. He strikes me as a bi-racial John Lindsay; he's got charisma. Which ended up bankrupting NYC.

His big idea is, 'change'. From what? I'll take the last quarter century with its two short, mild, recessions, thanks.

Further, he has a strange group of friends; the moral cretin Bill Ayers, the race hustler Jeremiah Wright. And his wife, who can't compose a syntactically correct English sentence to explain her highly refined sense of entitlement.

Then there is his world view, which seems to be slightly more naive than Jimmy Carter's.

In the end, McCain has decent econ advisers; Holtz Eakin, Glaesser, Phil (and presumably Wendy) Gramm.

McCain is also more likely than Obama to nominate SCOTUS justices like Thomas, Scalia, Alioto and Roberts.

 
At 3:01 PM, May 08, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would anyone from here care to comment on Thomas Sowell's columns concerning Obama?

 
At 5:41 PM, May 08, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

This is an excellent of how leftists sucker libertarian-inclined voters based on cultural appeals.

Obama has mastered talking out of both sides of his mouth:

"I think the 2nd amendment is an individual right, but subject to reasonable restrictions. That's why I have consistently supported legislation that would effectively ban guns." [my words!]

You can't listen to what he says -- you need to look at the voting record. Huh?

LOOK AT THE VOTING RECORDS!
LOOK AT THE VOTING RECORDS!
LOOK AT THE VOTING RECORDS!

Obama sounds more pleasing to the ear, but he's a protectionist, an authoritarian and a tax and spend leftist. One of the very worst Senators on all four counts. McCain has helped the Dems pass some awful legislation, but he's very good on trade and spending.

Am I surprised about your choice? No, I'm not surprised about any poor political decisions by a libertarian because Libertarians have done more to increase the size and scope of government than members of any other political party.

If it weren't so pathetic, I'd call it ironic.

-Mercy

 
At 5:57 PM, May 08, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There is a group of intellectuals connected with the University of Chicago who have accepted a good deal of the Chicago school analysis but still want to think of themselves as leftists. They are, as I see it, trying to construct a new version of what "left" means."

I call us (although I was never at University of Chicago) "progressives."

Someday, I will manage to get down on paper "what the heck do I mean by progressive," in that I do not accept the notion that progressive is merely rebranding traditional liberalism.
(This is Yaakov, btw)

 
At 7:18 PM, May 08, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

McCain is a hothead, extremely vain, and a warmonger. These characteristics are harmless for a Senator, but disqualifying for a President.

 
At 10:57 PM, May 09, 2008, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Generally speaking, Republicans are the ones who *talk* about free markets and personal responsibility, while actually promoting corporatist collusion between big business and big government.

Democrats are the ones who use soccer mom rhetoric about "our working families," while actually promoting corporatist collusion between big business and big government.

 
At 7:37 AM, May 10, 2008, Anonymous albatross said...

To mangle an old joke:

Under conservatism, man exploits man. But under liberalism, it's just the opposite.

 
At 11:34 PM, May 10, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

This is just so wrong that I can't drop it!

Here are what the libertarian scorecards say about Obama versus McCain with Ron Paul and Ted Kennedy thrown in as references.

First there is my favorite rating using a two-dimension plot which places the fascists, socialists and other varieties of authoritarians in the lower-left quadrant and freedom lovers in the upper-right. Left-liberals go in the upper-left and conservatives in the lower-right.

Obama's record is horrible. He straddles the line between Authoritarian and Statist on the graph and he doesn't do nearly as well as McCain on PERSONAL liberty. His economic rating is at the very bottom of the barrel -- about what you'd expect from a communist who spent his formative work experience doing community agitation and propaganda.

Republican Liberty Caucus
Lifetime score (thru 2005):
Paul: personal liberty 87%, economic 90% LIBERTARIAN (far upper-right quadrant)
McCain: personal liberty 62%, economic 79% ENTERPRISER (mid upper-right quadrant)
Kennedy: personal liberty 28%, economic 21% AUTHORITARIAN (mid lower-left quadrant)
Obama: personal liberty 45%, economic 5% STATIST (left lower-left quandrant)


Club For Growth
Avg score 2005-2007:
Paul: 82%
McCain: 82%
Kennedy: 5%
Obama: 2%


National Taxpayers Union
Avg lifetime score thru 2007:
Paul: 87%
McCain: 76%
Kennedy: 13%
Obama: 9%


From CATO, I found a lifetime of votes in favor of free trade. Note that unlike the other rankings, these are absolute percentages, not percentile rankings, so Obama's 31% is awful.

Paul: 70%
McCain: 86%
Kennedy: 39%
Obama: 31%


So here's my question to intelligent libertarians who seem to be in thrall with Obama relative to McCain: which libertarian vote rankings place Obama ahead of McCain?

I suspect that Obama appeals to:

1) libertarians who are ignorant of his record
2) big government libertarians

-Mercy

 
At 11:39 PM, May 10, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

This is just so wrong that I can't drop it!

Here are what the libertarian scorecards say about Obama versus McCain with Ron Paul and Ted Kennedy thrown in as references.

First there is my favorite rating using a two-dimension Plot which places the fascists, socialists and other varieties of authoritarians in the lower-left quadrant and freedom lovers in the upper-right. Left-liberals go in the upper-left and conservatives in the lower-right.

Obama's record is horrible. He straddles the line between Authoritarian and Statist on the graph and he doesn't do nearly as well as McCain on PERSONAL liberty. His economic rating is at the very bottom of the barrel -- about what you'd expect from a communist who spent his formative work experience doing community agitation and propaganda.

Republican Liberty Caucus
Lifetime score (thru 2005):
Paul: personal liberty 87%, economic 90% LIBERTARIAN (far upper-right quadrant)
McCain: personal liberty 62%, economic 79% ENTERPRISER (mid upper-right quadrant)
Kennedy: personal liberty 28%, economic 21% AUTHORITARIAN (mid lower-left quadrant)
Obama: personal liberty 45%, economic 5% STATIST (left lower-left quandrant)

Averaging personal and economic freedom we get:

Paul: 88.5%
McCain: 70.5%
Kennedy: 24.5%
Obama: 25%



Club For Growth
Avg score 2005-2007:
Paul: 82%
McCain: 82%
Kennedy: 5%
Obama: 2%


National Taxpayers Union
Avg lifetime score thru 2007:
Paul: 87%
McCain: 76%
Kennedy: 13%
Obama: 9%


From CATO, I found a lifetime tally of votes in favor of free trade. Note that unlike the other rankings, these are absolute percentages, not percentile rankings, so Obama's 31% is awful.

Paul: 70%
McCain: 86%
Kennedy: 39%
Obama: 31%


So here's my question to intelligent libertarians who seem to be in thrall with Obama relative to McCain: which libertarian vote rankings place Obama ahead of McCain?

I suspect that Obama appeals to:

1) libertarians who are ignorant of his record
2) big government libertarians

-Mercy

 
At 12:08 PM, May 11, 2008, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Mercy,

Sweet Jesus.

With all due respect, your ideas of the "free market" have a huge streak of what I call vulgar libertarianism: the confusion of "free market" principles with the interests of big business and the rich.

What Cato and other mainstream libertarian groups conventionally call "free trade," on such scorecards, is a good example. What neoliberal politicians and talking heads call "free trade" bears about as much relation to genuine free trade as Stalin's rhetoric about working class power bore to reality. It makes about as much sense to call the neoliberal model of globalization "free trade" as it would to call Stalinism "workers' democracy." In both cases, the rhetoric and symbolism have been misappropriated to defend illegitimate power interests.

What neoliberals call "free trade" is, if anything, more protectionist than Schumpeter's "export-dependent monopoly capitalism," protected behind national tariff walls, ever dreamed of being. Every single flourishing industry in the global economy follows a business model heavily dependent either on direct government subsidies, or on "intellectual property" [sic]: entertainment, software, biotech, agribusiness, pharma, electronics, armaments. "Intellectual property" serves exactly the same protectionist function for today's global corporations that tariffs did for the old national industrial corporations.

In addition, agribusiness depends on state expropriation of traditional peasant property rights, the defense of illegitimate feudal property rights of the latifundistas and other landed oligarchs, and in general the reenactment of the Enclosures throughout most of the colonial and postcolonial world right up to the present.

And one other monstrously profitable global industry, extractive industries, is a legacy beneficiary of collusion with government in preempting ownership of natural resources.

As a community organizer, Obama confronted the kinds of corporate welfare queens and subsidized corporatist plutocrats who dominate municipal politics everywhere. I might just as well say, of the kind of "libertarian" groups that keep all those scorecards, it's about what I'D expect from a bunch of corporate-funded beltway libertarians who want to pass off the corporate state as a free market.

I consider myself a free market fundamentalist. But the general public continually hears the terms "free market" and "free trade" used in the mainstream media and mainstream politics to defend the position of a bunch of turtles atop fenceposts, on the pretense that they climbed up there on their own. They hear those terms used to describe the wealth and power of corporatist elites that have used their connection with the state to loot everything that wasn't nailed down, and systematically rob working people, and then call it "the miracle of the market." It's no wonder that people express casual hatred for the "free market" and "free trade." If they actually meant what their most visible spokesmen mean by them, I'd hate them too.

 
At 9:30 PM, May 11, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

Kevin,

With all due respect, your post is a bunch of nonsense. Obama is the Senate's most consistent supporter of corporate welfare queens.

It's clear that you didn't bother to follow the Cato link, so I'll offer it again:

Cato Free Trade Votes

If you read the Cato database, you'll see that it targets trade barriers AND subsidies. Let me spell out the connection: Subsidy = Corporate welfare.

Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but these Obama's votes are facts. Obama loves corporate welfare so much that he even voted to aid agri-business at the expense of the world's poorest farmers as well as lower income people in the U.S. who spend a greater percentage of their income on food. All to pad the pockets of some corporate welfare queen, to use your term.

So get your facts straight, see if YOU would have voted for the corporate welfare that Obama voted for or if you would have voted for the trade restrictions that he supported and then let's talk.

BTW, don't feel bad for being suckered -- Obama seems to create a reason warp zone that makes even otherwise very intelligent people believe that he actually agrees with them.

That ability is why Obama is probably the most dangerous politician that I've ever witnessed in my lifetime.

-Mercy

P.S. Businesses are more than happy to collude with community organizers to win political favors and reduce competition.

Here are his votes so you can match them up against your "free market fundamentalism":

The 2007 Farm Bill
This was a vote to support trade subsidies
Sen. Obama did not vote on this bill. N 434 2007 /

U.S.-Peru FTA
This was a vote to oppose trade barriers
Sen. Obama did not vote on this bill. Y 413 2007 /

Ban Mexican Trucks on U.S. Roads
This was a vote to support trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted in favor of trade barriers. N 331 2007 -

Reduce Worker Visas
This was a vote to support trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted in favor of trade barriers. N 175 2007 -

Eliminate Worker Visas
This was a vote to support trade barriers
Sen. Obama did not vote on this bill. N 174 2007 /

Miscellaneous Tariff Reductions and Trade Preference Extensions
This was a vote to oppose trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted against trade barriers. Y 279
2006 +

U.S. - Oman FTA
This was a vote to oppose trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted against trade barriers. Y 250 2006 +

Reject 100% Container Scanning
This was a vote to oppose trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted in favor of trade barriers. Y 248 2006 -

Strike Emergency Farm Spending
This was a vote to oppose trade subsidies
Sen. Obama voted in favor of trade subsidies. Y 108 2006 -

Study of Foreign Debt
This was a vote to support trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted in favor of trade barriers. N 53 2006 -

Byrd Amendment on Antidumping Duties
This was a vote to support trade subsidies
Sen. Obama voted in favor of trade subsidies. N 354 2005 -

Protect U.S. Trade Laws
This was a vote to support trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted against trade barriers. N 232 2005 +

Dominican Republic-Central American FTA (DR-CAFTA)
This was a vote to oppose trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted in favor of trade barriers. Y 209 2005 -

Dominican Republic-Central American FTA (DR-CAFTA)
This was a vote to oppose trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted in favor of trade barriers. Y 169 2005 -

Defund Cuba Travel Ban
This was a vote to oppose trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted against trade barriers. Y 167 2005 +

Table China Currency Sanctions
This was a vote to oppose trade barriers
Sen. Obama voted in favor of trade barriers. Y 86 2005 -

 
At 11:45 PM, May 11, 2008, Blogger Weldon said...

I appreciate your comments and look forward to more analysis of Obama's economic policy (and your opinion of his advisors) as the presidential race continues.

Can we get your comments on why Obama has been so successful in raising donations from so many individuals? I think I understand the emotional reasons behind many donations, but is there a rational economic analysis for why he has collected so much money from small donors?

 
At 1:08 PM, May 12, 2008, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Mercy,

If my response was intemperate, it was a visceral reaction to this:

"about what you'd expect from a communist who spent his formative work experience doing community agitation and propaganda."

My main problem is with the brand of libertarianism that treats "community agitation and propaganda" as prima facie evidence of statism.

Looking at the legislative scorecards of the different groups you link to, I find a considerable amount of vulgar libertarianism in their criteria. The RLC and Club for Growth agendas, for instance, include 1) support for "tort reform," 2) a "me,too" approach to tax cuts that rubber stamps the Republican strategy of across-the-board cuts that benefit mainly the rich, and 3) treat votes on agreements with the letters "FTA" in the titles as evidence of a person's stance on "free trade." As for the Cato tally, characterizing the U.S.-Peru FTA, U.S. - Oman FTA, and Dominican Republic-Central American FTA (DR-CAFTA)
as "a vote to oppose trade barriers" is precisely the kind of thing I objected to in my earlier post.

Again, if you scratch the politicians and journalists and think tank people who talk most about "free markets" and "free trade," they're usually about as statist as the people they're condemning.

I want to contest the criteria by which these right-wing, pro-corporate groups define "pro-market" positions.

Some alternative positions:

Opposition to all "Free Trade" Agreements that promote strengthened "intellectual property" laws, or promote the corporate looting model of "privatization" (as opposed to Rothbard's genuine version based on the homesteading state property by those using it, and transforming into worker or consumer cooperatives).

A budget policy based on Thomas Knapp's and the Democratic Freedom Caucus's model of cutting taxes from the bottom up and welfare from the top down.

Instead of emasculating tort law in the interest of corporate malefactors, recognizing it as the proper free market ALTERNATIVE to the regulatory state.

 
At 6:32 PM, May 14, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

Kevin,

What I find vulgar is your claim to be a libertarian at all. So far in this thread you have:

+ endorsed Obama’s extremely protectionist stance in support of corporate welfare
+ opposed across the board income tax cuts
+ favored Marxist-style “community organizing”
+ opposed legislation that would increase free trade and decrease corporate welfare in the form of trade subsidies
+ expressed deep resentment towards business in general
+ expressed unfounded hostility to the few effective libertarian organizations that do exist

Why not just call yourself a leftist? You stole the word liberal and now you want to steal the word libertarian. Why do you progressive -> socialist -> Red -> liberal -> green -> progressive people have to keep relabeling yourselves? The only group that has to be re-euphemized more frequently than the political left are people of below average intelligence.

The terms moron and idiot were originally euphemisms, but in fairness to the mentally challenged, at least morons haven’t caused 100 million deaths and billions of ruined lives.

At least idiots aren’t doing their very best to screw up the world. Well, at least not the idiots who happen to also be collectivists... ;-)

-Mercy

P.S. One quibble. I didn't say that Obama IS a communist who spent his formative years doing agitprop, just that he voted like one.

 
At 11:05 AM, May 17, 2008, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Mercy,

Right back atcha. Your "libertarianism" is apparently motivated more by an affinity for big business interests than by free market principles as such.

I don't endorse Obama's protectionist stance on anything. I oppose using fake "free trade" agreements with the letters FTA in the title as litmus tests on "free trade." I did argue that it's understandable that so many on the left say they hate free trade, considering how that term has been misappropriated by rent-seeking corporate interests.

Your assumption that the Republican practice of across the board tax cuts is self-evidently the only proper approach to cutting taxes says as much about you as my opposition to it does about me. There are a good many left-Rothbardians who advocate an approach to downsizing government based on cutting taxes from the bottom up.

Your very phrase "Marxist-style community organizing," by itself, speaks volumes about you.

So does your characterization of corporatist "free trade agreements" as "legislation that would increase free trade," when they actually increase net protectionism in the form of "intellectual property."

I defy you to show where I expressed hostility to "business" as such, as opposed to the dominant business enterprises in the current corporatist economy which get their profits by the political means.

The "effective" libertarian organizations you refer to are effective precisely because they are funded by corporate interests, and they promote (under the guise of "free markets") what those corporate interests currently consider the optimal mix of the political and economic means for obtaining maximum extraction of profit through the state. Their choice of what parts of the state to dismantle, and what parts to leave in place, both reflect an overall strategic picture of the optimum mix of market and state for maximizing the loot extracted by the political means.

 
At 11:21 AM, May 19, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

> Right back atcha. Your "libertarianism" is apparently motivated
> more by an affinity for big business interests than by free
> market principles as such.

Hey, we’re making progress! You stopped calling my Hayek-and-Friedman style libertarianism vulgar. Now if I can get you to stop reciting the nonsense about free-trade being something that just benefits “big business interests” and using the tax-cuts-for-the-rich cliché. In reality the fat cat corporate interests getting government handouts line up AGAINST the Cato and the Club for Growth and the truly rich are mostly unaffected by income tax hikes.

But you’re still speaking on behalf of taxpayer-leeching corporate welfare artists like ADM and the farm subsidy lobby. Why else would you keep attacking the libertarian organizations who are fighting against the corporate farm welfare that you and Obama are so fond of?

So you oppose the Bush tax cuts because you have a different priority for which taxes you’d cut first. That’s rich. Which tax cutting bill did you support? The U.S. has one of the most progressive income tax regimes in the world, more progressive than those of Scandinavia, Canada or Germany and opposing tax cuts that don’t match your idea of perfection is either insanity or stupidity for anyone who really wants to decrease the size and scope of the federal government.

You also oppose free trade agreements that don’t meet your idea of perfection. Stating that the FTA’s of last 25 years have increased protectionism reveals a profound ignorance of economic reality. So you disagree with IP. That’s a trivial issue compared to agriculture and a foolish basis upon which to oppose all free trade as currently pursued. I keep hearing the mindless rant about FTA for corporate interests. Let’s talk about specifics: which trade agreements on the Cato list do you oppose? The level of tariffs and the subsidy dollars is a matter of fact and they’ve decreased over the last 25 years precisely because of FTA agreements. Does non-vulgar libertarianism include its own facts? Can you site a non-vulgar economist providing a big-business -influence-adjusted chart to back up your absurd claim that these agreements (GATT, NAFTA, etc.) have increased protectionism?

I’m still in the dark as to why you support Obama’s votes in favor of agri-business subsidies. Even the PUFF (Purple Unicorn Freedom Foundation) Congressional Scorecard that you supplied gives Obama an “F” on corporate welfare disguised as energy policy or trade subsidies. What? You didn’t actually respond to my request for a libertarian organization that advocates your views. I know. That’s why I had to invent PUFF!

PUFF is the libertarian organization in favor of Obama-style corporate welfare, protectionism and tariffs as a temporary-measure until true, non-vulgar, IP-free free trade can be implemented.

PUFF supports high taxes on productivity as well as bloated government rather than the Bush tax cuts which increased the progressivity of the tax system, but not enough. PUFF demands true Rothgardian tax cuts.

Anyway, congratulations for drawing me in. I normally try to avoid the sort of debate-club Libertarian politics that have put the Loser in Libertarian. That’s a stark contrast to the organizations that I belong to like the NRA, the Club for Growth, the Swift Boat Vets (best money I ever spent) and think tanks like the Manhattan Institute and CATO. I love to debate lots of abstract issues, but when it comes to candidates and legislation, libertarians need to get serious and use effective tactics.

Why don’t you go try to persuade the guys at Moveon.org to only implement ideal, non-vulgar proposals for expanding the size and scope of the federal government?

-Mercy

 
At 1:00 PM, May 19, 2008, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Some guy in Nebraska just called--they're running out of straw.

Strawman #1: Nowhere did I say free trade benefits the rich. I denied that most of what you and Cato call "free trade" IS free trade. I argued that so-called "free trade agreements" are actually protectionist agreements in which "intellectual property" [sic] plays the same role tariffs used to play under old-style protectionism.

Strawman #2: Please tell me where I expressed support for Obama's votes in favor of agribusiness subsidies. That's one litmus test in your scorecards I actually agree with.

..."put the Loser in Libertarian." Aha! I should have known you were associated with Dondero in some way. I never claimed Obama was a libertarian, or even have an especially favorable attitude towards him--which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for Dondero the Giuliani bukkakist.

There aren't many mainstream libertarian organizations that promote what I consider genuine free markets, and for good reason. The main source of funding for libertarian think tanks is corporate money, and the libertarian agenda they support is based on big business's perception of what government functions are in its interest to cut (and which ones are in its interest to leave in place).

The system we live in now is defined by corporate power, and is corporatist to its core. The main function of government is (as Rothbard said) to subsidize the operating costs of big business and subsidize accumulation, and protect big business from market competition. So why would I be friendly to a mainstream libertarian movement that lets those same corporations choose its strategic priorities based on their own rent-seeking interests?

I'd like to see a libertarian movement that doesn't carry water for corporate interests. As Benjamin Tucker put it over a century ago, the question is not whether to increase government intervention. The question is which functions of government to "lop off" first. I support a movement whose priorities are, as Jim Henley put it, to eliminate the shackles before it eliminates the crutches. First eliminate those primary functions of government, whose purpose is to prop up corporate power and privilege. Then eliminate the secondary, ameliorative functions whose purpose is to make corporate rule humanly tolerable for everyone else.

I belong to the Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left and Alliance of the Libertarian Left, organizations that include (among others) Roderick Long, Brad Spangler, Charles Johnson, and Sheldon Richman, if that gives you any idea of my philosophical orientation.

If there's a libertarian organization involved in electoral politics whose broad priorities I agree with, it's the Democratic Freedom Caucus. Their approach is what Thomas L. Knapp called "cutting taxes from the bottom up and welfare from the top down," and shifting taxes off of human labor and onto land rent, resource extraction and negative externalities.

 
At 5:00 PM, May 19, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

You: Free trade isn't really free trade.

Me: It's better than the status quo. Consider x, y, z free trade agreements and subsidies.

You: Free trade isn't really free trade.

{repeat}

Since you still haven't given me any more details on exactly WHICH free trade agreements you think are worse than the status quo, let's talk about taxes.

The Bush tax cuts (which McCain would keep and which Obama would eliminate) made the system even more progressive, so to a limited extent it did exactly as you demand -- cut taxes from the bottom up.

If Obama reverses the tax cuts as promised, he will cause lower income people to pay a higher percentage of the income tax than they currently do.

There is a basic economic problem with ever higher marginal rates that was acknowledged even by the left-wing economist who advised Hugo Chavez in creating the Venezuelan miracle: Joe Stiglitz.

High marginal tax rates have a large dead-weight loss i.e. they shrink the pie. Taxes on capital gains are even worse. In addition a system that doesn't share the tax burden across the income groups encourages short-sighted populism since the majority may vote to kill the goose.

Still, like any true libertarian, I would gladly support a tax cut even if it just cut taxes from the bottom up. That might not be the economically optimal way to cut taxes, but in case you haven't noticed, it's not like libertarians have a lot of tax cutting options.

I completely agree that biggest spenders in Congress (who are generally Democrats) give the most loot to politically powerful who tend to already be rich and that's why I find your support for the biggest spenders like Obama (and Kerry before him) so frustrating.

Obama's support for corporate welfare in the form of trade subsidies therefore sharply contrast with John McCain's excellent record in cutting costs and should horrify any who wants to cut the size and scope of the government.

First on my list would be all of the lush corporate welfare that earned Obama the worst of ratings from the Taxpayers Union.

Unfortunately, we don't exactly have many options and we need to cut government wherever we can.

When you buy into the left-wing nonsense that Democrats support the poor, you're just feeding the beast.

I really hope that Obama is the candidate of change and that his policies change once he gets elected. The way he votes now is a big part of the reason the country is mired in bi-partisan (but based on the votes, disproportionately Democrat) corporate welfare.

-Mercy

 
At 6:34 PM, May 19, 2008, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

You: Increased protectionism is really free trade. Increased protectionism, with IP serving exactly the same protectionist function that tariffs used to, is better than the status quo.

Me: I wouldn't support any "free trade" agreement that requires an international bureaucracy with administrative sanctions, or that strengthens IP law.

Genuine free trade doesn't require any such agreements.

Genuine free trade, as a U.S. government policy, requires only that the U.S. eliminate all tariffs and import barriers, and all export subsidies, and let its own people trade with anyone in the world, on whatever terms they can negotiate with those people. It also means that those engaged in such trade do so entirely on their own nickel, and assume all risks entailed in their overseas economic activity.

My model of free trade is Cobdenite. Yours is Palmerstonian. For an explanation of how they differ, see Joseph Stromberg: "How to Have 'Free Trade'"

I'd like to know where I expressed the opinion that "Democrats support the poor." I challenge you to read my initial post on this thread, at 10:57 PM, May 09, 2008. I quote: "Democrats are the ones who use soccer mom rhetoric about 'our working families,' while actually promoting corporatist collusion between big business and big government."

I never endorsed Obama. What I did was object to your idiotic attacks on Obama: first of all, you knee-jerk right-wing identification of community organizing as "communist," which says more about your pot-smoking Republican cultural values; and second, your equation of corporate mercantilist "free trade" agreements with actual free trade.

 
At 6:28 AM, May 20, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

> My model of free trade is
> Cobdenite. Yours is Palmerstonian.

Well that's just stupid. Your version of free trade is the pre-GATT status quo: massive protectionism, tariffs, huge subsidies, etc. My version of free trade is to cut restrictions on trade as much as possible.

Are Libertarian Party types congenitally unable to rationally grasp a political situation that presents a less-than-ideal choice and an awful choice?

The house is on fire and you want to have a deep philosophical debate about architecture.

There is a time and a place to think about architecture. I think it’s great the Prof. Friedman challenges peoples conception of what’s possible, but the topic at hand is McCain versus Obama and libertarians don’t seem to grasp how bad Obama’s voting record is.

-Mercy

 
At 10:17 AM, May 20, 2008, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

"Your version of free trade is the pre-GATT status quo: massive protectionism, tariffs, huge subsidies, etc."

THAT'S either stupid or a lie. Given your display of reading comprehension and critical thought skills so far, I'll be charitable and go with lie.

As I stated before, I advocate elimination of all U.S. tarrifs and other trade barriers, and all U.S. export subsidies. Can't you read? That's hardly a return to the "pre-GATT status quo."

Nevertheless, I don't consider GATT to be even a net step in the right direction. It's simply a switch from one form of protectionism to another. IP is nothing but a trade barrier erected in the place where it currently best serves the protectionist interests of TNCs: at the boundary separating the corporation itself from the rest of the world, rather than international boundaries.

 
At 11:54 AM, May 22, 2008, Anonymous Mr. Mercy Vetsel said...

Hey, hey, no need to get personal. I didn't say that YOU are stupid, just that you're making a stupid argument. Even the brightest among us do that sometimes! ;-)

Anyway, you missed the point entirely. Apologies for not being more clear -- I'll try one more time and then let you have the last word.

Your (or my) ideal system of trade has no bearing whatsoever on whether the free trade agreements as voted on by Barrack "G.D. America" Obama are better or worse than the status quo. Voting against a good, but imperfect free trade agreement IS a vote for the status quo, not a vote for Palmersonion Purple Unicorn Free Trade.

Bashing Cato and the Club for Growth is extremely misguided for someone who believes in freedom and ending corporate welfare. Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether you're just honestly confused on this point or actually just another left-wing fascist looking for a novel approach to increasing the size and scope of the federal government. Either way the effect is the same.

Cheers,

Mercy Vetsel

 
At 12:18 PM, May 22, 2008, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I apologize for being personal. Just about every attempt you've made to summarize or restate my position has been a strawman caricature that could be directly contradicted by simply reading what I actually wrote. It's quite infuriating.

You write:
"Your (or my) ideal system of trade has no bearing whatsoever on whether the free trade agreements as voted on by Barrack 'G.D. America' Obama are better or worse than the status quo. Voting against a good, but imperfect free trade agreement IS a vote for the status quo, not a vote for Palmersonion Purple Unicorn Free Trade."

Where I disagree is whether NAFTA, CAFTA, GATT, et al, *are* "good fut imperfect." I say they are worse, and that in replacing tariffs (which have outlived their usefulness for the TNCs) with IP (which currently best serves the TNCs' protectionist interests), they are a net increase in statism. They simply follow the transnational corporate agenda of shifting protectionism from the form that no longer serves its interests to the form that does.

These so-called "free trade" agreements are WORSE than the status quo, because they only reduce the constraints on state-privileged actors, without addressing privilege itself. You might as well support eliminating regulatory controls on the beating of slaves, while leaving slavery intact, and call it "a step in the right direction."

IMO giant corporations are so dependent on subsidies, and on IP and other protections, that they are a virtual creation of the state. We live in a globalized economy dominated by these quasi-state actors, whose ability to function results entirely from privileges upheld by the state. One of the central structural privileges they depend on is IP. A model of "trade liberalization" that simply removes all constraints on the ability of these state-created, state-supported and state-privileged actors to shuffle capital and goods around across national borders, without in any way addressing the structural basis of their privilege, will only *increase* the net level of statism (i.e., of extraction of profit by the political means).

If we didn't have the structural supports upon which TNCs exist, "free trade" (in the narrow sense of lowering tariffs) would be a moot issue, because the overwhelming bulk of existing international trade (aside from extractive industries and some exotic produce) wouldn't even be profitable. We'd be buying almost all of our manufactured goods from small factories serving local markets.

It's a mistake for the libertarian movement to let the corporations at the helm of the state decide what the priorities are for downsizing the state. You get something like CAFTA, which simply reflects big business's assessment of which forms of government intervention it needs to keep, and which forms are no longer working for it.

As Adam Smith said, when the state regulates relations between masters and workmen, it will have the masters for its counsellors. And when the state makes " free trade" policy, it will have the TNCs for its counsellors.

 
At 1:46 PM, May 25, 2008, Blogger Steve said...

I don't especially want to get sucked into this argument, but would like to clarify what the problem with opposing NAFTA is.

While NAFTA may require an international bureaucracy, and may not allow entirely free trade, think of the alternative. Does anyone honestly believe that the current Congress would not ramp up tarrifs if given the option? While I agree that it would be great if we did not require a treaty to provide more or less free trade, this is simply not the case. Maintaining free trade in the absence of nafta would require a majority of legislators to *ALWAYS* be in favour of free trade. Given the current intellectual climate, this is completely implausible. Just look at the protectionist attitudes exhibited by nearly every Democratic Presidential nominee.

 
At 5:34 PM, June 09, 2008, Blogger Redbeard said...

You might be wrong about Bush being a big spender outside of military expeditures.

Funding for Domestic Discretionary Programs is lower in 2007 than 2001.

 
At 3:18 PM, June 11, 2008, Blogger j said...

I'm not sure the deregulation of airline industry turned out to be so successful, with the mergers and many of the airlines in and out of bankruptcy. We also saw what deregulation of energy did, AND what deregulation of financial sector did (here I'm not being completely accurate, except that I know the now infamous Phil Gram who helped passed a bill in 2000 that allegedly triggered the financial crisis we are in).

 
At 3:30 PM, June 11, 2008, Blogger j said...

Wow, I just read Joe Bingham's comment on FDR's 'know-nothing' policies. Again, WOW! I happen to think (as much of the rest of the world) FDR's policies pulled the US out of the deepest, most miserable depression of the 30s. As a result of his economic policies, US saw growth of a robust middle-class and unprecedented prosperity for 30 years.

This bit being disputed and even debated is breathtaking news to me! But then, I probably stumbled into a very different forum than, say, HuffingtonPost. :D But I'm still glad to see people here seem calm and reasonable (as opposed to the breathless hysteria everywhere else), even as I disagree with their views.

 
At 1:34 PM, June 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for what we as AMERICANS are in store for if Obama wins this election. Why can't people see past his eloquent speeches that in actuality mean nothing? For goodness sakes, the man won't even pledge allegiance to the AMERICAN flag!!! This country was built around God...I'm not saying that people don't have the right to believe in anything other than Christianity, but why on earth would we want to put a man in office that has no respect for our country and what it stands for??? He has little to no experience in politics and is against everything that the majority of this country is FOR and is for almost everything this country is AGAINST!

 
At 2:08 PM, June 30, 2008, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I doubt many readers of David Friedman are likely to get their panties in a bunch over failure to "pledge allegiance to the AMERICAN flag!!"

The Pledge isn't exactly a founding document. The flag itself wasn't an object of veneration for the first several decades after the Constitution was ratified; it was actually the military flag, a convenient device for identifying a federal military installation, as opposed to the U.S. civil flag which was similarly flown over civilian government facilities. The Pledge wasn't written until the 1890s.

What's more, the very idea of a loyalty oath to the state is fundamentally unamerican. America is perhaps the only nominal democracy in the world where such a daily ceremony is the norm in the schools. If the people who fought in the Revolution had known that this country would wind up instituting such a cult of the state, they probably wouldn't have even bothered.

 
At 8:42 AM, January 22, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11:13 PM, March 16, 2009, Blogger moto said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home