David Gordon asks an important question about my critique of property-based libertarianism:
You seem to me entirely right that inequalities of property ownership would be likely in a libertarian society. It isn’t clear to me, though, why that by itself poses a problem for liberty. You seem to take for granted that the larger property owners would form a common class that would then act coercively against the rest of us. One need not assume that the large owners would be unusually benevolent to doubt that this would occur. Why think that the larger owners would view themselves as a class at all?
Class terminology aside, the distinction I want to bring out is between “being subject to someone else’s rules” and “making the rules oneself.” I think in any social order there is going to be a division between those two concepts—although that’s a hunch rather than something I want to prove just now.
The ruled/ruler distinction applies not only to states—where there’s a difference between, say, king and subject—but also to property, where there’s a parallel difference between owner and nonowner. The owner makes the rules, and the nonowner agrees to them or leaves. There may be negotiation, and the nonowner may even have some leverage against the owner for other reasons, but I think the theoretical distinction remains clear. Read More…
One criticism of my essay on how Iraq has been the GOP’s Vietnam contends the piece neglected the role of race, rather than war, in transforming the partisan landscape. After all, wasn’t the South’s realignment, followed by the racially inspired revolt of white ethnics in neighborhoods outside the region, sufficient to explain U.S. politics from the ’60s to the ’90s?
That’s a big part of the story, but it’s not the full story. For one thing, there was nothing that said these regional blocs had to align the way they did. The marriage of the South to the pro-civil rights Democratic Party wasn’t necessarily any more awkward than the marriage of the South to the traditionally pro-civil rights Republican Party—the party of Lincoln, the party of Robert Taft (a staunch foe of the Klan) and Dwight Eisenhower (who used the National Guard to integrate Little Rock Central High), and the party that voted in higher proportions for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. So what made the GOP a more welcoming home for opponents of civil rights than the Democratic Party already was?
War and economics. The South was more “economically conservative” and anti-Communist than the rest of the country. Anti-Communism previously didn’t distinguish the parties from one another either—previous to the Johnson era, that is, when the Democrats ceased to be just another anti-Communist party and became the party of incompetent anti-Communism and pro-Communism alike. Lee Atwater, hardly one to overlook the racial component of Southern politics, describes the situation:
the South in 1964 was considered reactionary, Neanderthalic, and so forth because we weren’t mainstream on not only on the race thing but on economic issues and national defense and all, we were considered, you know, ultraconservative and everything.
What happens is a guy like Reagan who campaigns in 1980 on a 1964 Goldwater platform, minus the boo-boos and obviously the Voting Rights Act and TVA and all that bullshit, but if you look at the economics and the national defense, what happened is the South went from being behind the times to being mainstream.
The Reagans did not have to do a Southern strategy for two reasons, number one race was not a dominant issue, and number two, the mainstream issues in this campaign had been quote “southern issues” since way back in the ‘60s. Read More…
While Ron Paul was announcing the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, I received an email from McCain Institute with the header “Watch Our Live Stream: Iran—Are we out of Options?” For the morbidly curious, here’s the video (which may or may not remain up once the event is over):
If you’ve read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s profile of Mark Sanford—or, for that matter, if you haven’t—you know the former South Carolina governor is a bit weird. His bid to return to Congress is getting a little weirder as news arrives that he has a court date, just days after the special election, to answer to a charge of trespassing at his ex-wife’s home. “I want him to sink or swim on his own. For the sake of my children I’m trying my best not to get in the way,” the Huffington Post quotes Jenny Sanford as saying, “but he makes things difficult for me when he does things like trespassing.”
She denies leaking the supposedly sealed court docs about the case. Mark Sanford’s side of the story is that he didn’t want their 14-year-old son to watch the Super Bowl alone: “I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father I didn’t think he should watch it alone. Given she was out of town I tried to reach her beforehand to tell her of the situation that had arisen, and met her at the back steps under the light of my cellphone when she returned and told her what had happened.”
Perhaps that’s adequate as political excuses go. He had to say something. But I find the phrasing a bit strange: “as a father I didn’t think he should watch it alone.” Does that just mean he thought his son would have more fun watching the game with company, or is that “as a father” line meant to be vaguely moralizing—as if the Super Bowl and its ads might be too racy for the teenage son of a guy who hiked the Appalachian Trail all the way to Argentina with his mistress? Probably “as a father” is just a politician’s stock empathetic cliche, cropping up by force of habit in any reference to his family life. But Mark Sanford, of all people, should be careful about relating to the public “as a father.”
Update: Politico reports that the National Republican Congressional Committee is pulling out of Sanford’s race. They think he’s toast. Or as David Freddoso says on Twitter:
NRCC “won’t be engaged,” won’t be married, and won’t be in Argentina w Mark Sanford’s campaign
— David Freddoso (@freddoso) April 17, 2013
“Saturday Night Live” takes the mickey (below), but there were a few punks who adored Mrs. T., or at least who voted Tory, ironically or not. Deborah Curtis, widow of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, recalled that he not only voted for Thatcher’s party himself in ’79 but insisted that she do so, too, since he wasn’t about to let his wife “cancel out” his vote. The tale is told in her memoir Touching From a Distance. Joy Division was more post-punk by then, but the band had initially formed after meeting at, and being inspired by, a shambolic Sex Pistols concert at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.
(Speaking of Manchester and free trade: one of my favorite scenes from the film “24 Hour Party People,” about Curtis’s band and their Factory Records labelmates, is an outtake where Factory impresario Tony Wilson tries to convince a superannuated patron to let him present the Sex Pistols on Granada television. “They have songs about the queen?” the old man asks. “Yes,” says Wilson, “the queen…and anarchy.” “Nothing wrong with a bit of anarchy,” says the old Manchester liberal.)
Matthew Yglesias points to Rand Ghayad’s research showing—unsurprisingly—that employers are reluctant to hire people who’ve been out of work for longer than six months. The result, then, of policies that don’t put the unemployed to work as quickly as possible is dependency and a long-term economic drag:
The high status thing to say is always that politicians focus too much on the short term and we ought to be worried about the long-term fundamentals. And back in 2009 and 2010 you certainly heard a lot of this kind of rhetoric that was aimed at establishing the seriousness of the speaker by disparaging the idea of juicing the economy in favor of the need to work on the long term economic fundamentals. But six months is a relatively short span of time in the course of human history. And it turns out that a six month spell of unemployment leads to a significant decrease in a potential worker’s attractiveness to employers. That means a six month spell is relatively likely to turn into a year-long spell or a two-year one. And that kind of prolonged absence from the labor force doesn’t just represent lost income and economic output for two months or 24 months. It represents lost opportunities to learn on-the-job skills and build organizational capital. It represents a worker who’ll probably drop out of the workforce altogether if he can get himself eligible for disability benefits or plausibly recast herself in a socially validated housewife role.
Perhaps outside the framework of a welfare state and the bureaucracy that attaches to hiring (and firing), the long-term unemployed would quickly be picked up by someone at some wage level. But we actually do have a welfare state, and the effect Yglesias describes makes matters worse for everyone: the unemployed remain out of work, the taxpayer has to foot the bill, and the private sector loses the value that would come from maintaining the skills of these workers. One would have to dig deeper into historical data to see what can counteract these effects: Yglesias argues that World War II put the Great Depression’s unemployed back to work, but that era is incomparable to any other in more than one way. What happened to the long-term unemployed of, say, the early 1980s?
Whatever the case, unemployment ought to concern conservatives at least as much as federal spending does. Especially if the two threaten to become a vicious circle in circumstances like those facing the country today.
Matt Zwolinski of the Bleeding Heart Libertarian blog suggests that his fellow libertarians abandon the “non-aggression principle,” as least as formulated by the late Murray Rothbard. David Gordon finds Zwolinski’s characterization of Rothbard’s position something of a caricature: “Rothbardian libertarianism is not the doctrine that each person is an absolute despot over his own property,” says David. “Neither is it the case that you are free to violate people’s rights, so long as you do so on your property.”
The question that immediately arises, though, is just what are “people’s rights” other than property rights? Libertarians who follow Rothbard subscribe to a doctrine of “self-ownership,” which they mean quite literally: you own yourself in much the same way as you own other property, except that you cannot alienate your own will. (This is why most Rothbardians don’t believe you can sell yourself into slavery: you can’t give up your volition and become in effect a robot subject entirely to someone else.)
Self-ownership means you have a property right that must be respected even when you’re standing on someone else’s land. Indeed, even a trespasser, in Rothbard’s ideal, cannot be assaulted, robbed, or killed—and he can only be removed from one’s property with the minimum necessary force. So that’s one thing David probably means by “people’s rights” on “your property.”
The trouble is, that might be the only thing a follower of Rothbard means. Rothbard was an anarcho-capitalist, and in general his disciples envision a world in which all land is privately owned: Disneyland or a shopping mall is sometimes invoked as a practical illustration of what a fully privatized, property-based community might look like. Gated communities are another example. Read More…
George Carey a few years ago noted a some reasons why America’s government doesn’t work the way the Founders intended:
One of the virtues of our system, at least as it was originally “sold,” is that there are safeguards against precipitous, oppressive actions. If we are to take Madison at his word, the main safeguards are not institutional in nature. Rather, as we can see from Federalist essays nos. 10 and 51, the major barrier is the multiplicity and diversity of interests found in the extended republic. It was anticipated that the process of majority formation among these diverse and multiple interests would be difficult and time consuming, particularly with respect to progress toward convergence on any unjust or oppressive measure.
Unfortunately, writes Carey, “as Madison acknowledges in Federalist no. 63, if an unjust or ill-conceived measure does somehow make it through the hurdles of the extended republic, it will also take some time to correct the situation.” And while the scale of the republic may be an advantage up to a point, “the increasing incapacity of our national government to govern is probably due to the republic being far too extensive with too many divergent interests.” The people are divided, while the governing elite is united in its will to act—indeed, sometimes the will of one man, the president, is almost sufficient.
All of that is true, but what I suspect has been doubly fatal to the old-style federal republic is that it faces not only a popular will that is too divided to be effective but also, from the opposite direction, national-scale forces that are too few to supply the competitive checks on interests that Madison envisioned.
A sketch of what happened might go as follows. The Constitution and many statewide reforms brought about after the Revolution laid the foundation for a commercial republic, in place of colonies whose trade and potential for growth were circumscribed by the metropole. But even as the legal groundwork for extraordinary economic expansion was being set down, the political experience that informed the Framers was that of a land where local political forces were more powerful than national economic interests—the latter of which were hardly yet in existence. Read More…
Nate Cohn lays out the dismal future for the Republican Party if it tries to get by with its present electoral coalition:
The problem for Republicans is simple: They built relatively durable, ideological coalitions immediately before a new generation of socially moderate and diverse voters completely upended the electoral calculus. In 2012, voters over age 30 went for Romney by 1.5 points—a result that shouldn’t surprise observers of the Bush elections. But the persistent and narrow GOP lean of the 2000 and 2004 electorates was overwhelmed by Obama’s 24-point victory among 18-to-29-year-olds. Democratic success with young voters is a product of demographics, not just Obama’s fleeting appeal or Bush’s legacy. Just 58 percent of 18-to-29-year-old voters were white in 2012 and 19 percent said they have no religious affiliation; in comparison, 76 percent of voters over 30 were white and only 10 percent were non-religious.
The ascent of millennial voters has turned the Bush coalition into a coffin—and the coffin could be sealed in 2016. It was frequently observed that a Romney victory would have required a historic performance among white voters, provided that Obama could match his ’08 performance among non-white voters. Bush’s 2004 performance among white voters wouldn’t get it done anymore. In 2016, the math gets even more challenging. If the white share of the electorate declines further, Republicans won’t just need to match their best performance of the last 24 years among white voters, they’ll also need to match their best performance of the last 24 years among non-white voters. If they can’t make the requisite 16-point gain among non-white voters—a tall order, to say the least—then the next Republican candidate will enter truly uncharted territory, potentially needing to win up to 64 percent of the white vote just to break 50 percent of the popular vote.
But there’s an ever better reason for Republicans, and conservatives, to change: GOP policies of the past decade proved utterly bankrupt. An activist foreign policy, tax cuts and financialization, and more heat than light on social issues produced a nation at the end of the Bush years deep in recession, mired in two occupations (one of which continues to this day), and trending away from traditional values. It’s hard to imagine a rout more comprehensive, and it occurred after “conservative” Republicans had held Congress for most of two full presidential terms.
Why would a party even want to go back to that? Why would any but the most hell-bent ideologue want to stick with what hasn’t worked? The GOP might make some terrible missteps in trying to reform, but no one should want it to return to the Bush era and the high-water mark of post-1960s conservatism, even if the party could still win elections playing its old hand. Luckily, philosophical conservatism is deeper and more capacious than the Bush coalition and its failed ideology. A new audience for timeless sources, newly applied, is what the thinking conservative ought to aspire to.