Liberal Democrats and Libertarian Republicans Working On Common Goals

Republicans have always had a libertarian wing but their influence and willingness to fight for true freedom has varied over time. Far too often Republican talk of freedom turns into the freedom of businesses to ignore necessary regulations or the freedom to impose their social and religious values upon others. Limited government also far too often turns out to mean reducing the authority of the federal government in order to allow state governments to infringe upon the rights of minorities. With true defense of freedom being rare among Republicans in recent years, it was good to see a report from The New York Times that Liberals and Libertarians Find Common Ground in House.

The article lists several areas where some Republicans have crossed the aisle to work with liberal Democrats:

From abortion to electronic privacy to background checks for gun purchases, a strange thing has been happening on the floor of the House as it debates its spending bills for the coming fiscal year: the stirrings of liberalism.

The House on Thursday voted 221 to 200 to approve an amendment by one of its most vocal liberal members, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, to ban federal contracts for companies that set up sham headquarters in offshore tax havens like Bermuda. Thirty-four Republicans bucked their party to push it to passage.

That was only the most recent stirring of life on the House’s left flank. Democrats have long hoped they could find common cause on at least some issues with the Republican conference’s libertarian wing. That is starting to happen, fueled by rising distrust of government on the right, a willingness of Democrats to defy the Obama administration in some instances and a freewheeling amendment process on appropriations bills.

The article cites examples of liberals and libertarians working together on legislation to increase individual liberty, from medical marijuana to privacy protections:

The tally of left-libertarian legislation is growing, with the House at least on record voting to limit federal law enforcement actions, intelligence efforts and social policy reach. On May 30, 49 Republicans crossed the aisle to approve language barring the federal government from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries.

“Some people are suffering, and if a doctor feels that he needs to prescribe something to alleviate that suffering, it is immoral for this government to get in the way,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, once one of the chamber’s most ardent conservatives, now a co-sponsor of the marijuana measure.

The day before, 76 Republicans joined Democrats to add $19.5 million to the federal instant background check system for gun purchases. The House Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to allow Peace Corps volunteers who become pregnant by rape to have a federally funded abortion and another measure limiting the federal government’s access to private email communications.

“By passing this amendment, the Appropriations Committee is taking a critical step towards ensuring all Americans are protected by the Fourth Amendment — their mail, documents on their desks at home, and now their private emails,” said Representative Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kansas and one of the measure’s authors.

On June 19, the House voted 293 to 123 to prohibit the National Security Agency and C.I.A. from placing “backdoor” surveillance technologies on commercial technology products and to end warrantless collection of Americans’ online activities. That amendment, passed over the White House’s objections with a veto-proof margin, was written by Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky and one of the House’s most outspoken libertarians, with the Democratic Representatives Zoe Lofgren, who represents Silicon Valley, and Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, a physicist.

An amendment by Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington, reversed cuts to a Bill Clinton-era program that funds local police forces, a program long on the Republican target list. The liberal Democrat that Republicans love to hate, Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, convinced just enough Republicans to pass an amendment blocking the Justice Department from compelling journalists to divulge confidential sources. Another Democratic amendment clears a legal path for states to cultivate industrial hemp.

To be sure, Republicans note, plenty of amendments have driven spending bills to the right. Just last week, the House voted to block the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change on multiple fronts, including one amendment that prohibits any funding for any aspect of the administration’s “climate change agenda.”

Amendments also have passed to end the deferring of deportations of immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, to fund a Justice Department investigation of the Department of Homeland Security’s release of illegal immigrants and to block high-speed rail in California.

But, Mr. Massie said, the libertarian-liberal alliance is real and growing. He said he has been working with Ms. Lofgren on legislation that would repeal a federal law that makes it a felony to unlock a cellphone tied to a particular carrier, even after a contract is expired. Libertarians are also teaming with Democrats to change laws on federal mandatory minimum sentencing.

It would be helpful if left-libertarian goals were a higher priority from the executive branch. Obama had initially raised hopes that he would have governed as more of a left-libertarian, and Obama did receive some libertarian support when initially running for president. While he has been far preferable to George Bush on civil liberties, he has disappointed civil libertarians in areas ranging from continuing many of the Bush surveillance plans (even if seeking reform in some areas) to failing to keep his campaign promises regarding ending federal raids related to medical marijuana. While nothing is a certainty in politics, it looks most likely that Hillary Clinton, who has been to the right of Obama, is likely to win the 2016 nomination. This could leave it up to such a liberal and libertarian coalition in Congress to pursue liberal goals. There is hope for greater emphasis by the Democrats (and possibly some Republicans) on matters of personal freedom in the future as polls show that younger voters are more “determined to protect personal liberties from conservative moral constraint.”

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David Brat’s Views On Economics And Religion

brat_cantor

The surprising defeat of Eric Cantor last night appears to be largely due to the personal faults on Cantor’s part along with possible preference for the more extremist views of David Brat, despite Cantor’s dishonest ads calling him a liberal college professor. It does not appear that cross over Democratic voters had a meaningful impact on the results. Cantor’s problems appear more cultural than strict ideology as pointed out at The New York Times.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

“Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

The New York Times does go overboard in calling Cantor’s loss a bad omen for moderates. While Brat is more extreme in opposing immigration reform and raising the debt ceiling to meet our financial obligations, Cantor is hardly a moderate. As Steve Benen pointed out, “He has a 95% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, for goodness’ sake.”

Brat has been called a follower of Ayn Rand, and his victory could be seen as a loss for crony capitalism. Whenever I hear that a Republican is a follower of Ayn Rand I wonder if they are aware of or acknowledge Rand’s atheism and strong hostility towards religion. Brat’s economic writings have shown a view of religion which Ayn Rand would never accept. The Wall Street Journal writes:

In the paper, titled “Is Growth Exogenous? Taking Bernanke Seriously (But How Can a Fed Guy Forget the Institutions)”, Mr. Brat waded into a debate among economists over the determinants of long-term growth with this conclusion: Mr. Bernanke’s work on economic growth overlooked the role that religious institutions–particularly Protestant ones–play in driving a country’s growth rates.

In his argument against Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Brat draws on previous research titled “Economic Growth and Institutions: The Rise and Fall of the Protestant Ethic?” a 2004 paper in which he wrote that Protestantism “provides an efficient set of property rights and encourages a modern set of economic incentives” so “one might anticipate positive economic performance.”

“Give me a country in 1600 that had a Protestant led contest for religious and political power and I will show you a country that is rich today,” he wrote.

On the other hand, another article in The Wall Street Journal suggests he does not accept the agenda of the religious right:

Can Christians force others to follow their ethical teachings on social issues? Note that consistency is lacking on all sides of this issue. The political Right likes to champion individual rights and individual liberty, but it has also worked to enforce morality in relation to abortion, gambling, and homosexuality. The Left likes to think of itself as the bulwark of progressive liberal individualism, and yet it seeks to progressively coerce others to fund every social program under the sun via majority rule. Houston, we have a problem. Coercion is on the rise. What is the root word for liberalism? (Answer: Liberty)

It is of course a straw man argument to claim that the left seeks to fund every social program under the sun. Unless he means the cost of established and highly successful programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the spending advocated by most liberals on social programs is far less than Republicans have coerced others to pay, such as on the Iraq War. Bush’s policies, including both his spending and tax cuts for the wealthy have had far more impact on the deficit that liberal social programs. Despite his acceptance of these rather naive right wing talking points, it is encouraging that Brat has opposed the Republican use of government to enforce the social views of the religious right. It remains to be seen if he will buck the Republicans on such issues when voting in Congress.

Update: Mother Jones takes a look at Brat’s libertarian views, including slashing spending on Medicare,  Social Security, and education. What happens when you cut funding on education? A lack of understanding of science, leading to people falling for denial of climate change.

Update II: There has been considerable speculation that Brat won due to Cantor’s views on immigration. It is not clear that this was the reason for Brat’s victory. A survey from Public Policy Polling showed that there was not widespread opposition to Cantor’s views on immigration in his district but it is possible that those turning out in a Republican primary held stronger anti-immigration views than the general population. Both blogs on the left (such as Mother Jones) and right (such as Hot Air) have questioned if immigration was the reason Cantor lost.

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Koch Brothers Donate $25 Million To The United Negro College Fund

David Koch

I think it was a smart move by the Koch Brothers to give a $25 million grant to the United Negro College Fund. If their goal is to improve their public reputation in response to the campaign by the Democratic Party to vilify them, such a move is likely to be far more effective than Charles Koch’s whiny and misleading op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Maybe they hope that this will help counter some of the harm done by their financing of the Tea Party which, while containing a variety of views, far too often looks like the KKK without the white sheets. The willingness and ability of the Koch Brothers to receive this form of favorable publicity also gives an example of why it is foolish for the Democrats to spend so much effort in their campaign against the Koch Brothers personally as opposed to actually learning how to promote a coherent message.

There are many reasons to vote for the Democrats over the Republicans with the Republicans adopting an extremist agenda, acting to undermine the foundations of our Democratic system, and failing to engage in any rational thought as they pursue policies in contradiction of economics, science, and the very principles of individual liberty which this nation was founded upon. There are so many issues for the Democrats to concentrate on, yet Harry Reid wants to concentrate on a pair of brothers who most people have never heard about. Sure attacking the Koch Brothers might be good for fund raising emails, but this is no substitute for coming up with a real message.

The fact of the matter is that the Koch Brothers are not the worst enemy faced by the Democrats and supporters of liberty (true liberty, not the plutocracy and religious authoritarianism promoted by the right wing under this label). There is certainly quite a bit of hypocrisy  in the economic views of the Koch Brothers, who made their fortune taking advantage of government programs while selectively arguing for economic libertarianism as a means to escape regulation. However in some ways the Koch Brothers are preferable to the standard Republican line, from opposing the Iraq War to being more libertarian on social issues. David Koch also has a long history of philanthropy. They could even be a force for moderation of some of the extreme views of the Republican Party.

Of course this is not meant to excuse all their behavior, including suspected illegal activity and funding of efforts to deny climate change (which on at least one occasion has blown up in their faces). The most reprehensible has been the funding of dishonest advertisements against the Affordable Care Act.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when they spread false information which contributes to mistrust of a law which has resulted in improvements in the lives of millions, they risk doing serious harm to those who remain uninsured based upon misinformation. The Affordable Care Act is also a good thing for the economy, helping to reduce the deficit, reduce unemployment, and enable people to leave jobs they remain in for insurance coverage to work for or form small businesses of their own. Those who truly support freedom, as opposed to giving it lip service as the right wing does, would prefer a system which gives more choice to individuals rather than leaving them at the mercy of an insurance industry which has existed without serious competition in most markets, and which found it to be more profitable to find ways to deny providing care. Support of Obamacare is the only rational position for those who support the rights of the individual over the rights of abusive monopolies. Unfortunately such a choice is beyond the thought process of those on the right who have been brainwashed to see our tradition of self-government as the source of tyranny.

I would find it far easier to ignore the Koch Brothers if they would cease spending their money on these dishonest ads and ideally use their influence to truly promote freedom. Regardless, we could show appreciation for contributions such as this and perhaps it is time for Harry Reed to find a new bogey man–or preferably to do a better job of actually promoting ideas.

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Conservative Victims And Science Fiction Fandom

robert heinlein

In principle I agree with the general argument made by Glenn Reynolds that politics doesn’t belong in science fiction, but knowing how conservative love to claim to be victims, I am skeptical as to the circumstances he described. He wrote:

That’s certainly been the experience of Larry Correia, who was nominated for a Hugo this year. Correia, the author of numerous highly successful science fiction books like Monster Hunter Internationaland Hard Magic, is getting a lot of flak because he’s a right-leaning libertarian. Makes you wonder if Robert Heinlein could get a Hugo Award today. (Answer: Probably not.)

I don’t know enough about the politics in science fiction fandom to know if this is the case, and wonder if “getting a lot of flak” is simply a daily occurrence in fandom for many regardless of their political views. His books are selling. He was nominated for a Hugo, which hardly makes it appear like he is truly ostracized for his beliefs. Reynold’s view in this op-ed also looks suspicious to me because of his claim that Robert Heinlein could not get a Hugo Award today. I am a huge fan of Robert Heinlein, and know many liberals who share this view.

There are aspects of Heinlein’s work which attracted liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, and most liberal science fiction fans I know do not have an ideological litmus test for enjoying the work of an author. Heinlein died in 1988 which also makes it impossible to categorize him by today’s political battles. His support for individual (and sexual) liberty and opposition to religious dogma and racism would align him with liberals over conservatives on many current issues. Whether he would be categorized as a libertarian today would depend on which of the many strands of libertarianism you are speaking of. I suspect he would only have contempt for people such as the Koch brothers who use government to make money while only being consistently libertarian in opposing regulation of their businesses. Heinlein was even further away from Ron Paul ideologically. While he displayed considerable support for the military in Starship Troopers, published in 1959, I wonder if his support for the Viet Nam war would have changed if he lived longer, and if he would have approved of the misuse of military power to invade Iraq.

Reynolds also cited the ouster of Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich, but again conservatives who desire to portray themselves as the victim generally gave a simplistic and incorrect description of this event. Mozilla is not a traditional company, and those in the Mozilla community who saw Mozilla as more of a cause than a business were responsible for forcing Eich out. Some liberals weighed in with concern over whether it was fair for Eich to be forced out over his political beliefs.

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Tying Republicans To The Koch Brothers To Campaign Against Plutocracy

Republicans often do a better job of messaging than Democrats, but they make their job much easier by making things up. They don’t care that the economic theories they promote have no relationship to how the economy really works or if the “facts” they use to justify their policies with are frequently false. Democrats have a tougher time explaining the problems caused by an economic system which has increasingly been rigged to transfer wealth to the top one tenth of one percent at the expense of the middle class. Those who do not understand the dangerous degree of concentration of wealth in a tiny plutocracy, and how this harms the entire economy, easily fall for bogus Republican economic arguments and false cries of socialism.

Republicans succeed with phony elevator pitches that they stand for capitalism and limited government. Democrats must stop letting Republicans get away with these misrepresentations. Republicans who promote plutocracy are no more supporters of capitalism than Republicans who support the agenda of the religious right are supporters of limited government. Of course I mean a main street form of capitalism in which people who work can profit from their efforts, as opposed to the Republican false-capitalism of using government to rig the system for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy.

As I noted recently, Democrats have recently been trying to make their case by standing up to the Koch brothers. Besides financing many of the dishonest ads spreading misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, the Koch brothers have made their fortune by taking advantage of government, and then come out with faux cries for libertarianism to protest needed regulations on their business. Greg Sargent explained the Democratic strategy:

As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) while cutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.

The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies – opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states –  become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.

In many ways this strategy is born of necessity. The 2014 fundamentals are stacked heavily against Democrats, who are defending seven Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 that are older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate. This is made even worse by the midterm electorate, in which core Dem groups are less likely to turn out.

GOP attacks on the health law in red states are not just about Obamacare. They are, more broadly, about casting Senate Dems as willing enablers of the hated president and blaming the sputtering recovery on #Obummer Big Gummint, to channel people’s economic anxieties into a vote to oust Dem incumbents. With the law and its author deeply unpopular in these states, Dems can’t really run on any Obama accomplishments. So they need to make these campaigns about the fact that Republican candidates don’t have an actual agenda to boost people’s economic prospects, and indeed are beholden to a broader agenda that has made the problem worse, even as Dems offer a concrete economic mobility agenda of their own. The goal is to boost turnout among Dem constituencies while minimizing losses among the older, blue collar, and rural whites that predominate in these states.

Adding such a framework may help, but there are limitations to the comparison to how Mitt Romney was harmed by the attacks for his actions at Bain. Romney was directly responsible for the actions he performed at Bain. Republican candidates are not directly responsible for the actions of the Koch brothers, and most people have no idea who they are. Democrats need to both explain why voters should oppose this type of policy and make the case that the Republican candidates are also promoting these ideas. I suspect that this might be too complicated for many of the voters the Democrats hope to attract, especially the low-information non-college educated white working class males who I recently discussed here and here, along with others brainwashed by Fox and right wing talk radio. If strategy helps, it will more likely help by motivating more Democrats to turn out as opposed to attracting additional voters.

Maybe this will work, and perhaps the wisdom of this approach will be clearer after it plays out. Unfortunately simpler elevator pitches typically prevail–an explanation of a position which can be explained in the span of an elevator ride. Explain how Republican economic policies are bad for the middle class and lead to economic stagnation. Democrats need to counter trickle down economics with trickle up economics. The rich don’t need any more special favors from government. They are doing quite fine on their own, and when more wealth is given to them, they are less likely to spend it. Instead concentrate on stimulating the economy and keeping more money in the hands of the middle class. The poor and middle class are far more likely to spend a higher percentage of their money, further stimulating the economy.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Liberals Like Cats And Messy Desks

cats

Tests to tell if someone is liberal or conservative are of uncertain significance but often amusing enough to take a look at. From a survey, Time has found, among other things, that liberals are more likely to like cats than conservatives.

Cats are less likely to follow authority. It does make sense that liberals would have a greater affinity for these freedom-loving animals, while conservatives, who are more into authority and imposing their rules upon others (regardless of their rhetoric) might not like them as much. Other questions show a similar distinction with liberals being more supportive of liberty while conservatives being more interested in authority. For example, conservative authoritarianism leads to a preference for more neat and tidy desks.

If we were to follow the logic that liberals prefer cats more than conservatives due to their preference for liberty, then we might think that libertarians would be ever bigger lovers of this anarchic animal. It turns out that libertarians fall between liberals and conservatives on each question. With a little thought about the state of the libertarian movement, this actually makes sense. Libertarians include those who are true opponents of restrictions on liberty, but many other libertarians are basically conservatives who have smoked marijuana. They have hung out with Republicans for so long that it has become difficult to tell them apart. Some libertarians, such as Ron Paul, share many views with the religious right. Plus, as I have noted in the past, Ron Paul’s views would lead to a less free society. Anyone know his opinion of cats? In researching the question I did find a Cats and Kitties for Dr. Ron Paul Facebook Page, but that doesn’t tell me if the attraction is mutual. I wonder what additional information I can find over at FriendFace.

Of course this data is open to other interpretations. Allahpundit at Hot Air wonders if the survey shows that liberals like cats more than conservatives  because women tend to like cats and more women are liberals than conservatives. It is also possible that cats work better as pets among liberals who are more likely to live in urban areas. Similarly,  the tendency for conservatives to be older than liberals might explain why they are more likely to use Internet Explorer, but it appears that Allahpundit might be as quick to write someone out of the conservative movement for using IE as for supporting a tax increase.

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Discrimination Versus Personal Property Rights

gay-wedding-cake

Kathy Gill at The Moderate Voice voice (where I am now cross posting many of the posts from Liberal Values) looks at discrimination in 1964 and today, leading me to think about the ramifications of government action in this area. There are certainly parallels, and maybe differences, between discrimination against blacks then and gays today. She looked at some current legal cases:

This week, Tennessee State Sen. Brian Kelsey filed legislation (SB 2566) that would “allow people and businesses to refuse to provide goods and services to homosexuals.” There’s an iPetition in opposition.

And in Oklahoma on Tuesday, a similar bill overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives: 72-42.

[House Bill 2453] would allow hotels, restaurants and stores in the state to refuse to serve gay couples if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” The bill would also allow government clerks to refuse to sign same-sex marriage licenses without threat of a lawsuit.

Up in South Dakota, State Senator Ernie Otten has introduced two bills to protect discrimination on the wedding day; the bills would “protect clergy, church officials and businesspeople who refuse to take part in gay marriages or receptions.”

Don Frankenfeld, of Rapid City, a member of Equality South Dakota, said he believes the bill dealing with clergy is irrelevant because the constitutional separation of church and state protects clergy members from being forced to perform any ceremony that runs counter to their beliefs.

Frankenfeld said the measure dealing with businesses seems to be an assault on the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed mostly to prevent businesses from refusing service to black people.

The ACLU is filing a lawsuit in Missouri today, according to news reports. In Colorado, a baker refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple; he was found guilty of discrimination and has appealed the decision.

If we were only looking at isolated cases of a business practicing discrimination, I would have mixed feelings on cases such as this in terms of the role of government. I certainly object to the actions of businesses which refuse discriminate against blacks or gays, and I consider both comparable forms of discrimination.

However the libertarian part of me wonders to what degree someone has the right to decide who they will associate with and do business with, regardless of whether I (and hopefully most others) find their decisions objectionable. I will sometimes refuse to see a patient who repeatedly behaves inappropriately in the office, is non-compliant with treatment recommendations, or is violating policies related to use of controlled substances. That is far different than refusing to see someone based upon race or sexual preference, which I would find totally unjustified. However where do we draw the line for the decisions of others? Plus it is less meaningful to refuse to sell a wedding case than to refuse to allow someone in a medical practice.

In the case of civil rights legislation in the south, the need for government action was clear. Widespread policies turned a group of people into second class citizens and the government had a necessary role in remedying the situation, countering the libertarian position of keeping government out of the decisions of business owners. However, if an isolated restaurant, baker, or photographer discriminates against a group (either blacks or gays) the best thing might simply be for decent people to take their business elsewhere.

It is a different matter when the state goes the other direction to protect the right of people to discriminate. I might have mixed feelings regarding cases such as an individual baker (assuming there are other bakers available). The role of government goes beyond coercive laws. While it is too often not the case, in a society based upon self-government we should be able to look towards our legislative bodies to promote our better selves, not to promote discrimination. There is no question that state laws to “protect” this form of discrimination send the wrong message and will lead to such discrimination becoming more widespread, and this must be avoided.

On a related note, a federal judge has struck down a Kentucky ban on recognition of gay marriages from other states, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Rand Paul Provides A Useful Lesson When Discussing Government Help For Unwed Mothers

Rand Paul says a lot of stupid things and justifiably often comes under attack from the left (not to mention all the times he comes under attack from fellow Republicans when he is right on some foreign policy issues). This week he is under attack for something which, after some clarification, he has a broader point worth looking at. This has significance as it shows something which applies to anyone, left or right, who desires to talk about difficult issues we face.

Rand Paul has discussed the problem of unwed women receiving government assistance and continuing to have children. While there are legitimate problems faced by the poor which Rand and other Republicans seem oblivious to, in this case it is worth discussing whether government funds have the desired results. This is a tricky issue to talk about, and Paul did later clarify his views, backing away from the idea of supporting any actual policy to cut financial assistance:

The Republican senator from Kentucky said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he didn’t “come up with a policy prescription,” such as limiting government aid, but rather said it’s up to communities to resolve the problem, which he called the No. 1 cause of poverty in the country.

“I mused about how you’d have a government policy, but I actually came down saying it would be very difficult to have a government policy,” the potential 2016 presidential candidate said.

“I mostly concluded by saying it’s a community, it’s a religious, it’s a personal problem, but it is a problem,” Paul said.

While I think it is a typical conservative cop-out to simply say it is something to be handled by the community without saying how, I do have some sympathy for Paul in trying to discuss a real issue where there might be no ideal solution. Potential presidential candidates typically try to avoid such discussion, limiting our political discourse. Efforts at helping the poor cannot be abandoned as many on the right might prefer, but we must also keep in mind that there can be adverse consequences from government actions.

There are often problems where we would like to act but there is no ideal solution. In some cases there might be nothing government can do. For example, I think that the misinformation spread by Fox and the right wing media does pose a serious threat to democracy in America, but government cannot solve this without creating more serious problems by infringing on First Amendment liberties. In this case, government cannot do anything.

In many other cases, government can try to act even if there is no ideal solution. We must do something about gun violence, but efforts are limited both by the need to respect the right bear arms (regardless of whether the Bill of Rights was ever intended to include this as an individual right) and consider the limited efficacy of many policy recommendations. This even applies to recent issues over implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Our health care faced serious problems which simply could not be left unchanged. Obamacare has provided tremendous advantages over the past, including expanding access to health care, providing coverage of preventative studies, getting rid of policies which fail to actually provide health care coverage, and preventing denial of coverage due to developing serious medical problems. There are also some negative consequences as there is no ideal solution, and some adjustments are needed in the law, with the right wing greatly exaggerating the problems and denying the far more significant benefits.

In the end, Paul is right in realizing that there is no simple solution such as cutting off  financial assistance, with such attempts in the past failing to have the effects predicted by conservatives. I’m glad Paul didn’t respond with the typical conservative/libertarian bromide that private assistance could totally replace government programs when this is clearly not possible. Perhaps some government programs could be made to work better if we had a serious conservative opposition which does raise real problems with liberal programs, and the two sides could get together to find a solution that works. At present this is not possible because of the knee-jerk opposition to government programs from the right. Many problems are best solved by individual actions and by the market. Other problems can only be solved by the type of organization provided by government, even if the outcome is less than perfect.

Update: I should also clarify that this not intended to agree with Paul that on the whole welfare results in mothers having more babies due to the economic incentive, just that it could happen in individual cases and that government policies do not always work out perfectly, even if beneficial. As is often the case, conservatives greatly exaggerate  potential problems. Past attempts at capping benefits has not provided the benefits which conservatives have claimed they would, but at least Paul did back away from advocating this. There have been some edits from the original version which gave more credibility to Paul’s argument than deserved. The post is intended more to be about dealing with the fact that government programs are often necessary even if the results are not perfect than about welfare for unwed mothers.

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The Myth Of The Free Market Outside Of Government

The libertarian movement and portions of the conservative movement have a highly successful con going. They appeal to the common desire for freedom and translate this into a bogus economic philosophy which pretends that markets are a force outside of the rest of society. They then argue that government regulation of the economy is an intrusion on freedom, and that any government interference in them will do great economic  harm. Libertarians accept this without question, while naively denying that libertarianism is more like a fundamentalist religion than a serious political or economic theory. This blind faith works well for its major proponents, such as the Koch brothers who fight any regulation on such quasi-religious grounds while quietly taking advantage of government to amass their fortunes.

In discussion of this subject, I have often pointed out that markets are creations of people, and that regulations are necessary for them to function. Robert Reich addressed this topic today:

One of the most deceptive ideas continuously sounded by the Right (and its fathomless think tanks and media outlets) is that the “free market” is natural and inevitable, existing outside and beyond government. So whatever inequality or insecurity it generates is beyond our control. And whatever ways we might seek to reduce inequality or insecurity — to make the economy work for us — are unwarranted constraints on the market’s freedom, and will inevitably go wrong.

By this view, if some people aren’t paid enough to live on, the market has determined they aren’t worth enough. If others rake in billions, they must be worth it. If millions of Americans remain unemployed or their paychecks are shrinking or they work two or three part-time jobs with no idea what they’ll earn next month or next week, that’s too bad; it’s just the outcome of the market.

According to this logic, government shouldn’t intrude through minimum wages, high taxes on top earners, public spending to get people back to work, regulations on business, or anything else, because the “free market” knows best.

In reality, the “free market” is a bunch of rules about (1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); (2) on what terms (equal access to the internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); (3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?) (4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); (5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.

These rules don’t exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don’t “intrude” on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them.

Reich went on to further discuss the types and goal of rules which might be made to regulate markets, and finally who makes the rules:

…the rules are being made mainly by those with the power and resources to buy the politicians, regulatory heads, and even the courts (and the lawyers who appear before them). As income and wealth have concentrated at the top, so has political clout. And the most important clout is determining the rules of the game.

Not incidentally, these are the same people who want you and most others to believe in the fiction of an immutable “free market.”

If we want to reduce the savage inequalities and insecurities that are now undermining our economy and democracy, we shouldn’t be deterred by the myth of the “free market.” We can make the economy work for us, rather than for only a few at the top. But in order to change the rules, we must exert the power that is supposed to be ours.

I certainly would prefer a situation where regulatory burdens are diminished, especially on small businesses which have more difficulty in dealing with this, and there are undoubtedly a number of bad economic regulations which should be repealed. That said, there is a relationship between regulations on the economy and freedom, but libertarians and conservatives get it wrong. In a free society, economic regulations should be developed by a democratic government, not by an oligarchy as promoted by conservative policies.

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Nick Gillespie’s Five Myths About Libertarians

Nick Gillespie of Reason had an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday on Five Myths About Libertarians. Here’s my take on these alleged myths, which generally have some degree of truth but are not necessarily completely true:

1. Libertarians are a fringe band of “hippies of the right.”

The classic description that libertarians who have smoked marijuana is true (even if simplistic) about many but certainly not all. There are libertarians on the left and right, but this doesn’t have as much electoral significance as Gillespie suggests when writing:

Libertarians are found across the political spectrum and in both major parties. In September 2012, the Reason-Rupe Poll found that about one-quarter of Americans fall into the roughly libertarian category of wanting to reduce the government’s roles in economic and social affairs. That’s in the same ballpark as what other surveys have found and more than enough to swing an election.

Looking beyond the likelihood that a Reason poll might tilt the questions and definitions towards such a finding, there are vast differences between right-libertarians and left-libertarians. Sure, if there was a Democratic candidate who is terrible (as very many are) on civil liberties and social issues it is conceivable I might vote for a libertarian Republican for the Senate who might provide a strong voice for some issues I support. Of course this would not include someone like Rand Paul. Left-libertarians see the issues which impact individual liberty far differently from right-libertarians, many of whom don’t even support abortion rights. Left-libertarians disagree with right-libertarians as to the importance of some regulation of the economy, realizing that markets are human inventions which require regulation to function. Many of the left-libertarians who are not thrilled with ObamaCare prefer a single payer system which directly conflicts with the core values of right libertarians. There is simply a huge gap between different people who might be lumped together as libertarians in such a poll.

Left-libertarians and right-libertarians are unlikely to join together to swing an election, but there is hope that the two could exert pressure on both Republicans and Democrats to change some of their policies in areas where the two groups agree.

2. Libertarians don’t care about minorities or the poor.

Few outside the libertarian movement really buy their claims that libertarianism helps the poor. Democratic economic policies may not be libertarian (nor are they socialist) but the historical fact remains that the economy does better under Democrats. As opposed to the right wing view of trickle-down economics, a rising tide under Democrats is more likely to raise all ships. Where this doesn’t work, the social safety-net which libertarians oppose remains necessary. On the other hand I do agree with Gillespie to a degree that there are areas where it would be beneficial to reduce regulations on small business. That said, I run a small business and do manage to survive with all the regulations in place.

Gillespie is right about the drug war, which is largely a war on poor minorities. What other result is possible after you imprison minorities for drug possession, and then release them from prison with a criminal record which makes it very difficult to ever get a  job?

3. Libertarianism is a boys’ club.

He is right here. There have been prominent libertarians among libertarian intellectual leaders. I have known female libertarians. They do exist.

4. Libertarians are pro-drug, pro-abortion and anti-religion.

As I mentioned above, it is a favorable characteristic that libertarians oppose the drug war (which is not the same as supporting drug use). Having thirty percent of libertarians opposing abortion rights is a negative.

Saying any political group is anti-religion is likely to be fallacious. Republicans have often claimed Democrats are anti-religion but the percentage of atheists among Democrats is fairly low (even if  higher than among Republicans). The difference is that liberals who are religious see religion far differently than conservatives, and do not have the desire to use government to impose their religious views upon others.

Some libertarians are quite hostile to religion. Ayn Rand (who didn’t actually consider herself part of the libertarian movement) has writings as  hostile towards religion as to socialism (which in her mind would include the views of Democrats). On the other hand, there are some called libertarians such as Ron Paul and Rand Paul who support many of the views of the religious right, and whose  philosophy is not one I would consider to be pro-freedom. I have discussed Ron Paul’s anti-freedom views at length here. People of the old right such as Ron Paul also carry much of their baggage including racism, creating further problems when considering libertarians and minorities.

5. Libertarians are destroying the Republican Party.

On the one hand Republicans do need a reboot in their ideas. It is a good sign when some Republicans join some Democrats on issues such as opposing violations of privacy rights from NSA surveillance programs. On the other hand, opposing all government activity regardless of importance just pulls Republicans further from mainstream views.

 

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