Sunday, June 12, 2011

What I've learned from libertarians/libertarianism

Well, for starters, it's not my sense of humor. I suspect that if a libertarian had to listen to my jokes all day, even he or she would support, "for the good of society," some restrictions on speech.

But I have learned a lot from them. First I should clarify what I mean by "libertarians" and "libertarianism." By libertarians, I mean those who call themselves libertarians and appear (to me) to be sincere. In other words, I have not read most of the intellectuals credited with being "libertarians," like Hayek or Friedman, although I have read Locke, who might be a proto-libertarian. I have also read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations--the whole thing, although I can't claim to have understood it or to remember it. By libertarians, I mean, for the most part, those who I have met on the blogosphere, either at the belated Positive Liberty site and its successors or at the Volokh Conspiracy.

By libertarianism--well, I guess I should clarify what I mean, but I don't know what I mean, so I'll just assume I know what I mean.

Finally, when I say "I have learned" x, y, or z "from libertarians," I acknowledge that perhaps what I have learned has something to do with things that aren't essentially "libertarian" but are consistent with what I've observed libertarians support or believe in. In short, I am not a libertarian, but I have learned a lot from people who claim to be.

Here's my list:
  • Acti0ns have unpredictable consequences.
  • Government regulations usually (maybe always?) impose costs, and even the best regulations usually (maybe always?) get us something good at the cost of something else that is also, although not necessarily as, good.
  • Government regulations can and often do create "perverse incentives."
  • The state is coercive, and coercion of any sort is something we should be at least wary of. Even if it's necessary.
  • Fraud is a form of coercion.
  • The morality and efficacy behind antitrust laws is, to say the least, problematic. (I've actually probably would have come to this conclusion without the aid of libertarian bloggers of the libertarian scholars who I've read on this subject--my dissertation research has in some ways led me to this conclusion--but they have helped me in affirming this conclusion.)
  • Torture is not only wrong (which I either learned or "knew" on some level for a long time), its effectiveness is highly questionable. Its effectiveness being highly questionable gives yet another reason why it is wrong.
  • The notion of what many libertarians call "economic liberty" deserves respect. ("Deserving of respect" does not, in my view, have any obvious implications about the role of the state, and I certainly remain comfortable with, for example, only rational basis review by the courts over restrictions on economic liberty. But I have more respect for the argument that economic liberty is an important thing for people.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On disliking Sarah Palin

I have sometimes complained to my friends about Sarah Palin's (Gov of Alaska, retired) critics. These complaints are often taken to mean that I like Palin (Gov of Alaska, retired) or that I think it is wrong to criticize her. I believe neither: her policies, such as I understand them, are ones I cannot support; her fitness and ability to be president is something I question; her populist demagogy I find distasteful.

I say the preceding just to be clear. My beef with her critics, especially those from the 2008 election, is the quickness to which they are willing to resort to some of the most invidious and condescending tropes possible. (I should also be clear here that I refer mostly to those critics who are friends of mine; I have little to say about the punditrocracy or strangers who criticize her.) Within days of McCain announcing her as his choice for running mate, I heard the following "critiques" of her fitness to be VP:
  • She had a special needs child. (One friend of mine actually said, and I quote almost verbatim, that "she needed to have an abortion.")
  • She speaks with a funny accent.
  • She is a mother.
  • She was in a high school beauty pageant (or maybe it was a post-high school thing).
Now, I admit that Palin (Gov of Alaska, retired) plays off of tropes that perhaps implicate the preceding: she paints herself as the poster-advocate for pro-life politics; she uses her accent in what appears to me to be a down-home style of "hey, I'm just like you"; and she trades in on her physical beauty. In a sense, then, her campaigning style makes her fair game for certain of the above "critiques" (although the abortion remark is over the top by any standard, I think).

Still, there's so much more to criticize, and at least some of the criticisms have a hope of actually commanding a respectful response from people who are otherwise inclined to support her. Instead, so many of my personal acquaintances have resorted to misogynistic, even hate-filled statements when they should be criticizing her policies.*

And just to be clear, I'll repeat something that I hope is obvious by what I have written, but at least a few of my friends have misunderstood me**: I do not claim that people dislike Palin (Gov of Alaska, retired) because she is a woman; instead, I claim that even though there are a lot of reasons to dislike and oppose her, my friends and acquaintances choose for some reason to resort to mysoginistic tropes to express their displeasure with her.

*For the record, I don't count Palin's (Gov of Alaska, retired) misstatements about Paul Revere as particularly cause of concern. If she wants to praise one of the principals involved in instigating an unjust war (imagine killing people over a tax on tea!), then she's on her own.

**To be fair, the misunderstanding has arisen at least in part because I myself have not expressed myself as clearly as I ought to have about why I disliked many of the criticisms of Palin (Gov of Alaska, retired) I have heard.

Friday, June 3, 2011