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Persuading people that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is wrong

Sure enough, it cropped up in my Facebook feed: “As usual, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right: There should be no billionaires.” What does she say?

A system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong.

I came here to write about it, but Jonathan got here first. And he is right that classical liberal ideas are not popular. But I am optimistic that this can be changed.

I explained on Facebook that I thought Ocasio-Cortez is wrong for two reasons: Wealth is created. There’s not a fixed quantity of it. So billionaires don’t take anything away from anyone. Even just stating it like that is worth doing. Because deep down, people know it is true. They know that people do useful things or make useful things when they do work. Once you get past semantic misunderstandings about what “wealth” is, it is self-evident.

Even my second reason did not meet much objection: that the “system” that allows billionaires to exist is also the best there is. There is no other way of distributing resources without removing incentives from people. If people cannot keep the fruits of their labour, you get less labour in the world, and people on the whole will be poorer. It is not a hard point to understand. The example with the butcher and the baker works. There are plenty of examples of places with different “systems” and even more poor people.

I encountered the argument that no-one needs all that money and that billionaires are greedy. This is an opportunity to discuss how billionaires become so rich. The popular image of Scrooge McDuck and his pile of gold does not bear much scrutiny. Typically, billionaires are rich because they are useful in small ways to vast numbers of people. Businesses like Amazon, Paypal and Windows are very scalable. Bezos, Musk and Gates do not wake up thinking, “5 billion is not enough, where can I get my next billion?” They simply keep doing what they do because they enjoy it and they know how to do it.

Another objection I encountered is that nobody needs all that money. I think people have an image of a pile of gold being kept from poor people but it is not hard to pierce that misconception. There is only so much stuff a person can have. Billionaires do not have much more stuff than an ordinary, moderately rich person. Once you have a nice house, a boat, and a fancy car (which in any case has no more utility than a cheap family car), there is not so much more a person can have. What happens to the rest of the money? It is spent paying people to do things that are ultimately useful to other people. It is invested. Billionaires tend to be quite philanthropic, and they tend to have their own pet projects related to making the world a better place. Because there is very little else to do with so many resources. It is not hard to turn it into a discussion about whether Gates, Musk and Bezos are more likely to know how to improve the world than, say, the US Federal government. And it is hard to have an especially strong opinion that the US government knows best how to improve the lives of poor people. There is at least room for doubt.

And so ordinary voters, even ones who have suffered good educations, can be persuaded that billionaires are not a problem, and perhaps also that capitalism is not a problem, and perhaps also that redistribution of wealth is not the best way to improve the world. We need to develop the marketing techniques to do this, and then sell these marketing techniques to politicians. The left have claimed a monopoly on virtue for too long. It should not be so hard for classical liberals to dispense with the greedy banker image and market themselves as the ones who care about the poor and downtrodden enough to have solutions that work.

42 comments to Persuading people that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is wrong

  • There is indeed an alternative to the system that permits U.S. billionaires (could she have a particular one in mind 🙂 ) to exist while some (far smaller than in the past) proportion of people in Alabama have ringworm. I do not know how many people have ringworm in Venezuela, but I’ll bet it is a very much larger percentage, despite Venezuela’s proportion of resident billionaires being very much smaller than in the US (mostly Chavez family members last I heard).

  • Greg Prince

    You would profit by engaging her point instead of misrepresenting a portion of it. She isn’t saying wealth isn’t created or that it’s finite. She is saying there’s no inherent right to unlimited personal wealth at the expense of the larger society. That’s not a particularly controversial principle outside of libertarian fever swamps.

  • That’s not a particularly controversial principle outside of libertarian fever swamps.

    Actually it is quite controversial once you get beyond the self-referential socialist echo chamber, given that the very notion wealth is accumulated “at the expense of the larger society” is a crock of shit rooted in the preposterous ‘fixed quantity of wealth’ fallacy.

  • Rob

    I doesn’t even work on her own terms, as there aren’t that many billionaires, nowhere near enough to fund the Behemoth she demands. So then it’s the millionaires, and there won’t be enough of those either.

    But Socialism doesn’t really care about the amount, only the difference, and there will always be difference somewhere. So finally it will be you or your neighbour. Which will it be?

  • Stonyground

    “…at the expense of the larger society”

    That bit can only be true if wealth is finite. You appear to be saying that she said the thing that you are saying that she didn’t say.

  • SteveD

    ‘If people cannot keep the fruits of their labour, you get less labour in the world, and people on the whole will be poorer. ‘

    And therefore, there will be more people with ringworm.

  • Mr Ed

    I do not know how many people have ringworm in Venezuela, but I’ll bet it is a very much larger percentage,

    The many benefits of socialism, I would suspect, include that they share more diseases. But ringworm is not really a public health matter but a matter in part of personal lifestyle and hygiene, it’s a fungal infection predicated on warmth, humidity, and habits like using communal bathrooms (e.g. in a gym) as well as being immuno-compromised.

    I can’t see how taking money off of Mr Soros is going to help sporty people in Alabama (well, I can, kind of)

  • Sam

    there’s no inherent right to unlimited personal wealth

    Yes, there is a right. You have a right to your voluntarily-obtained property, regardless of the amount. Or, said differently, there’s no cap on voluntarily serving your fellow man. Please stop letting your petty jealousies cloud your judgement.

  • The myth that persuasion will work has its roots in egalitarianism. People are not equal. Not in intelligence. Not in time preference. Thus you will always have poor people who want your stuff- or whoever’s stuff they happen to see. If they can get into government, they’ll use government. Usually, the most sensible thing to do is to find someone able to keep them working on productive things, and well away from the government

  • Bloke in Brampton

    The difficulty is that you are always arguing against strongly ingrained patterns of thought, patterns of thought that are being inculcated among young people by a largely socialist-minded education system. I fight the good fight every day with my grandson who is being bombarded with this every day. He recently came home distressed at two things:
    1. Why did he have nice things when other children do not? (Of course, he could not actually think of any children that he knew who did not have nice things, and that calmed him down for a bit.)
    2. That the house that he lives in was built only after the all the animals had been killed or driven off, the trees chopped down and nature generally laid waste.

    He is 6!

    They start them young…

  • Paul Marks

    “even ones that have suffered good educations” – good way of putting it Rob, as “education” (including most of the private schools and universities) is the heart of the problem.

    People are not born collectivists (it is not some sort of Original Sin) they are TAUGHT false collectivist ideas – “Social Reform”, “Social Justice” and so on.

    And the mass media just reinforce the B.S. – for example CNN and the Deep State “FBI” THUGS (and they are THUGS – who turns up to arrest an elderly political campaign manager at 0600 in the morning, wearing battle armour and waving rifles, this was a STUNT).

    But AOC will not be the Democrat candidate in 2020. Someone like Senator Elizabeth Warren will be.

    Someone who does NOT admit that they are socialist (even Barack Obama did NOT publically admit what he was). Just another person who will push the United States further on the road to collectivism – WITHOUT admitting what they are doing. And with the support of much of “the rich” INCLUDING BILLIONAIRES and much of “Big Business”.

    For “the rich” go to schools and universities as well – indeed they tend to be “good students” who absorb all the stuff they are taught (pity that it is all wrong – indeed pity it is gut tearing in its evilness).

    “Planning” and “stakeholders” – warmed over FASCISM straight from Mussolini, that will be the pitch of Senator Warren (or whoever the candidate is) will push.

    And the education system and the media, and much of the rich and Big Business – will applaud.

    As will the Deep State – including the scum of the “Justice” Department. With their black (sorry “dark blue”) body armour glad warriors waving rifles to arrest people whose political stuff they do not like.

    “But Paul – Roger Stone said that Ted Cruz had affairs with five women and that Richard Nixon would introduce school on Saturday and…”.

    Yes Roger Stone is a story teller – a LIAR, so is Donald Trump (a New York City property SALESMAN) – but they do NOT deserve the Deep State THUGS turning up with battle armour and rifles.

    Donald Trump is himself at fault – not for being a conman (he has always been a salesman), but for not CLEARING OUT these Deep State SWINE on January 20th 2017.

    I know who is the threat to liberty – and it is not Roger Stone or Donald Trump trying to sell me a condo in Florida (with wild stories about how Elvis slept there – or whatever).

    The threat to liberty is FBI THUGS in battle armour shoving rifles into the faces of elderly men – with CNN cheering them on.

    These people (the Deep State and the “mainstream” media) are a bunch of FASCISTS – with their “planning” and “stakeholders in the economy” and, behind it all, THUGS WITH GUNS.

    i

  • Snorri Godhi

    I wonder whether Rob Fisher (and J.Pearce in the previous post) are too concerned about the last war, and not enough about the current war.

    AOC champions the “right” of the poor in Alabama (whose population is 67% non-hispanic White according to wikipedia) to confiscate the wealth of billionaires; but, in a conflict between a Black female billionaire donor to the Democrats and White rednecks in Alabama, whose side would she take? Is she really color-blind (and gender-blind)? Maybe she is — although her position on the Wall suggests otherwise. If she is, then give her credit where it’s due; if she isn’t, then call out her hypocrisy!

  • hamilcar

    It is obvious that socialism has been a disaster whenever it has been tried. It is less obvious why it is still attractive. Humans seem to have a built-in capacity for envy. This leads us to try to limit success wherever we find it, especially if we believe the success is unearned.
    Fairness is a concept almost impossible to define, but most can recognize its opposite. Unfair societies devolve into class warfare and revolution. We should therefore be vigilant in rooting out obvious unfairness, especially when it is being compelled by government.
    Socialists believe that capitalism makes the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The latter is obviously false, but the former is at least partly true. The rich do receive benefits from government not available to the poor. Capital gains tax rates are an egregious example. Even though all of us who have accumulated any kind of savings take advantage of these rates, there is no logical reason why money earned from investments is somehow more beneficial than that earned through employment.
    The most significant benefit to the rich comes through the expansion of the money supply. This has caused a world-wide surge in asset inflation. Real estate and stock prices have skyrocketed in recent years. But this only benefits those who own these assets to begin with.
    The people who benefit from this monetary explosion the most, of course, are those who control its initial distribution. Bureaucrats and lobbyists, politicians and government contractors are all getting rich. This is why the five richest counties in America are all suburbs of Washington. Those who make the rules get the gold.
    Unless we can eliminate some of the sources of the perceived unfairness of our system, I fear that it will be swept away by the forces of envy and resentment that are increasingly prevalent in society.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “She is saying there’s no inherent right to unlimited personal wealth at the expense of the larger society. That’s not a particularly controversial principle outside of libertarian fever swamps.”

    It’s about applying the principle of justice when we help one another. If somebody helps us, it’s only right that we should help them in return. Sometimes we can’t repay immediately, so we instead give them a promise to repay them later. And this is what money is: it is the measure of all the good we have done for others in society that society has not yet repaid.

    A billionaire is thus a person who has done favours to help millions of people, that they were happy to promise to repay, but which have not yet been repaid. A billionaire is someone who has done far more good for others in society than society has yet done for them.

    If somebody does you a favour, is it ‘unfair’ that you should owe them one in return? If someone does many thousands of favours, is it unfair that society can owe them so many favours in return? Should we ask them to stop helping us, because they’ve done more than their fair share? Or do we expect them to keep on working for our benefit, but say we don’t have to repay? To steal their labour? To show no gratitude? To hate and revile them for having helped us too much, and thus put us too deeply in their debt?

    The result of socialism is always the same. First the productive stop working, because they’re not being paid. Then millions starve because production has fallen. Then they enslave the producers and force them to produce for nothing. The producers are destroyed in the process. Society collapses.

    History has demonstrated time and time again that socialism when applied in full leads inevitably to poverty, slavery, and death. It’s built in. The only way that it can exist is if you mix in a little bit of socialism to society – not enough to kill it, but only weaken it a little. And then claim credit for the bounty, claim credit for other people’s production, and use that to buy more power and more socialism from the foolish voters. A parasite cannot suck too much from its host or it will kill it. But by taking only a little, the situation can continue indefinitely.

    The talented share their skills and enable the rest of us to live lives far beyond what we could manage on our own. They get rich not at society’s expense, but in return for society’s enrichment. Their personal wealth is our gratitude for their help. To set a limit on our gratitude would be to set a limit on their help; on all the many ways they make our lives better than some dirt-poor subsistence farmer struggling to survive on next to nothing, vulnerable to every passing famine, flood, and disease.

    The correct answer to the problem of inequality is not to seize and destroy, but to compete. We should *all* be as productive as them. If we were, inequality would come down.

    When one person is paid more than another, that is the market telling us we have a shortage of that person’s skills, and we need more people like that. The high pay is supposed to motivate people to acquire those skills, and in the meantime to ration the scarce resource to the most productive activities. The right way for an equality campaigner to reduce CEO pay is to offer to do the same job, just as well as them, for less money. ‘Greedy’ companies will take a deal like that. It’s what the companies want. It’s what the other employees want. It’s what the customers/consumers want. It will make society richer overall. It will make you richer, too. It’s how the market is supposed to work. So what’s stopping you?

    However, I do agree that it’s not a popular viewpoint outside the ‘libertarian fever swamps’, because most of the non-libertarian portion of society doesn’t understand economics, or people, or justice, or the society they live in, or how the world works. Are they stupid, or brainwashed, or just uneducated? It’s hard to say. But it’s the problem we face.

  • Stonyground

    It might be worth pointing out that nature is pretty indifferent to him and would kill him in any number of ways if we didn’t constantly battle against it.

  • Stonyground

    If a business is successful by providing goods or services that people are willing to pay for, it goes without saying that those people handed their cash over voluntarily. The state, on the other hand, just helps itself to people’s money with no kind of agreement about what they will get in return or what the money is spent on. Socialists seem to have a problem with the former but no problem with the latter. I really have no idea why.

    As has already been pointed out, socialism has been tried out many times in the past. The results are always disasterous yet there are still so many people who think that it is a good idea. I really have no idea why.

  • Ringworm or Dermatophytosis is a fungal infection.

    Typically it results in a red, itchy, scaly, circular rash. Prevention is by keeping the skin dry, not walking barefoot in public, and not sharing personal items. Globally, up to 20% of the population may be infected by ringworm at any given time.

    This is different from: “The prevalence of intestinal parasites [which] is the highest among children that are living in the poorest communities in developing nations. These symptoms negatively impact nutritional status, including decreased absorption of micronutrients, loss of appetite, weight loss, and intestinal blood loss that can often result in anemia. It may also cause physical and mental disabilities, delayed growth in children, and skin irritation around the anus and vulva.

    Just what is it about Alabama, that means that people there deserve not to get ringworm? That it is particularly to their disadvantage (compared to intestinal parasites, Dengue fever, malaria, TB, measles, flu, etc)?

    Best regards

  • Stonyground

    There was an outbreak of ringworm when I was a kid in the UK in the 1960s. I don’t recall that it was particularly distressing. Everyone had to have their own face flannel and I seem to recall that the treatment had something to do with paraffin.

  • Mr Ed

    Nigel S,

    It did strike me that the freshman Congresswoman might be a little confused about ringworm and roundworm, and tapeworms generally.

    Of course, the World capital of intestinal worms appears to be North Korea, they found that brave defector who made it over the DMZ and got shot several times was riddled with them. Seems that the Norks using human faeces as fertiliser is a great way of sharing.

    Anyway, on that note, it really is time for my dinner.

  • Chester Draws

    It is obvious that socialism has been a disaster whenever it has been tried. It is less obvious why it is still attractive. Humans seem to have a built-in capacity for envy.

    It is obvious, and it isn’t envy.

    In most of human existence, there has been a fixed amount of wealth. Hunter-gatherers cannot make things exist that do not exist. They cannot control the weather, etc. So in such a society if one person has something, then they have literally taken it from others. But for some to miss out is not good for a hunter-gatherer society, because they cannot afford to have weak members because they need their labour. So human society finds sharing as its norm, albeit not completely full sharing, as some have higher prestige and get a bit more.

    Now even the most rabid libertarian will share inside his or her family. I do not have 45% of my house because I have paid 45% of the mortgage. I own it shared with my wife. I give my kids stuff, and don’t particularly expect anything in return except that they will give their kids, my grandkids, the same start in life. Likewise we can be extremely generous to people we know, without necessary expecting a return. We are hardwired to share.

    Division of wealth started with agriculture, because now we could store and we could improve yields. But that is a small portion of human existence.

    With Capitalism the amount we generate personally is completely divorced from others. You can get incredibly wealthy and yet make others better off at the same time. But that is not how the brain has been built to understand and we have to see the world and realise that it has changed. It then comes down to do you think with your cortex or your amygdala. Because if you revert to thinking with the instinctive parts, you end up Socialist.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “In most of human existence, there has been a fixed amount of wealth. Hunter-gatherers cannot make things exist that do not exist.”

    If they don’t hunt and don’t gather, they get no wealth. The amount is not fixed.

    “Now even the most rabid libertarian will share inside his or her family.”

    One doesn’t need to be rabid. There are many situations where people trade favours without needing money to keep track of it formally. You get love. You get gratitude. You get the pleasure of friends’ and your family’s company. You get an implicit, informal, but mutually understood obligation to one another.

    Try not paying to support your family, and you’ll soon find out about all the valuable things they give you, when you suddenly lose them. The transaction of love goes both ways – even within the family!

    The same applies to charity, too. The pleasure and pride you take in knowing yourself to be a good person is recompense enough.

    The economists invented the concept of “utility” to account for this difference between what people want and simple monetary value. Not all trades involve money.

    Plus, there are other virtues besides justice, such as mercy. Justice means giving people what they have earned. Mercy (or charity) means giving people what they need, even when they haven’t earned it. Socialists are those who think they can be charitable with other people’s resources.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The longer and more pretentious the name – the greater the fraud.

  • Ferox

    Ocasio-Cortez is a socialist moron (but I repeat myself), naturally.

    But I could muster up more sympathy for U.S. billionaires and the coming shitstorm they are about to endure if only they weren’t so reliably “woke” SJW twats.

    As it is, it looks an awful lot like friendly fire among the enemy team to me. Meh.

  • It did strike me that the freshman Congresswoman might be a little confused about ringworm and roundworm, and tapeworms generally. (Mr Ed, January 25, 2019 at 8:35 pm)

    That thought occurred to me too, but I cannot prove that Ocasio-Cortex does not in fact know that ringworm is not a worm, and her remarks are a target rich environment, making it quite needless to push the envelope from ‘wrong’ to ‘probably wrong’.

    Given the state of Venezuelan healthcare under socialism, I feel sadly confident that ringworm, along with many more serious illnesses, is getting little treatment and so is more prevalent.

  • Paul Marks

    It will not be socialism by name. It will be called “liberalism” or “Progressivism”.

    It will be socialism by the backdoor – as with Barack Obama’s EPA trying to convert every farm or ranch with water on the property into (de facto) government land, by regulations and edicts.

    And many of the billionaires will be IN SUPPORT of the collectivism – and will financially back candidates supporting it.

    As will the “mainstream media” – including the entertainment television shows and Hollywood films. Reflecting as they do the EDUCATION SYSTEM – the schools and universities.

    Socialism, collectivism, by regulations – commands, edicts.

    What General Ludendorff called “War Socialism”, Mussolini called “Fascism”, and Hitler called “National Socialism”.

  • bobby b

    Greg Prince
    January 25, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    “She is saying there’s no inherent right to unlimited personal wealth at the expense of the larger society.”

    Her premises are incorrect. Actually, most here in the swamp would agree with that statement.

    But in her economic ignorance, she assumes the “expense of the larger society” factor. That’s not how it works. We’re not all bidding on the same five loaves of bread, with the rich outbidding the rest of us. The rich got rich by making many more loaves of bread and putting them out for sale.

    The outcome is, we all get more bread. The cost is envy, as we watch the rich get more bread than we do.

    But we still all end up with more bread.

  • stopped doomsday clock

    So far, 26 comments repeating the talking points that prove libertarianism is right, and no one answering the question: “how to persuade people that libertarianism is right”.

    No one.

    Is there still anyone surprised that libertarianism is as succesful as it is?

    The market of ideas is market like any other, where the consumers rule. And the consumers rejected the libertarian package, all over the world, despite all libertarian outreach. Free market in action.

  • Roué le Jour

    “She is saying there’s no inherent right to unlimited personal wealth at the expense of the larger society.”

    Take the “personal” out of there and that’s an argument against big government.

  • anonymous

    And he is right that classical liberal ideas are not popular. But I am optimistic that this can be changed.

    Nope. I think, sometime in the next few years, classical liberalism is going down in flames.

    You’re going to get it from both ends. The socialists have always been and will always be socialists. But whatever ends up replacing the thoroughly dead right-wing is not going to be very enamoured with unfettered global trade and open borders. People have seen their economies hollowed out and their world more or less destroyed by something called “liberal free trade” (whether or not it actually is looks a lot like damnable pedantry to someone reduced to serfdom in the land his ancestors built.) Once thriving cities have been destroyed more thoroughly than an enemy bombing run could hope to do.

    The people currently preaching free trade are using the wealth accumulated from selling off the substance of the nation to corrupt politics, subvert democracy, persecute people politically, and piss on the “masses”. The same new-class threatens people with magic-robot automation in one opinion-outlet, and with “replacement” by more pliable peasants from overseas in another. The natives aren’t going to put up with this, and why should they?

    I’m not thrilled with the new reactionaries. (For one thing, I think they’ll make their attempt to reassert some autonomy, and lose to the socialists.) How bad the reaction gets will depend a lot about how far along towards the hunger games we go before someone fights back. If the socialists win, they’ll be their usual magnanimous genocidal selves.

    Seriously, what is libertarianisms’s answer to *any* of the crises facing the modern world?

  • Harry Powell

    If defending libertarianism means being a cheerleader for billionaires then we’ve already lost the argument. That is a rhetorical trap AOC has cannily laid down. That there are billionaires is entirely epiphenomenal to the existence of property rights and self-ownership, so frankly fuck-em – they can look after themselves. Meanwhile, real wages have stagnated and asset prices have ballooned, largely to the cost of working stiffs and the benefit of billionaires, thanks to shady monetary policy. A libertarian critique of the status quo is what is needed now, not an apology for it.

  • Mr Ed commented (January 25, 2019 at 3:48pm) that ringworm is fungal and “not really a public health matter”. I completely (and carelessly) missed seeing that comment of his prior to making mine at 7:32pm; otherwise I would have referenced it.

    Apologies

  • A libertarian critique of the status quo is what is needed now, not an apology for it.

    I don’t see many libertarians who are happy with the status quo, they just don’t tend to think billionares are the problem and I would have to agree with that.

  • Nope. I think, sometime in the next few years, classical liberalism is going down in flames.

    LOL. That implies we have it now, which we really don’t. We have really a lot of over regulated markets (but at least we do have kinda sorta markets in many areas of life).

    Once thriving cities have been destroyed more thoroughly than an enemy bombing run could hope to do.

    Oh I don’t know about that, I see really a lot of thriving cities in my travels around the world, vastly richer than forty years ago, in which most people are now ‘middle class’ by any reasonable definition.

    Seriously, what is libertarianisms’s answer to *any* of the crises facing the modern world?

    I don’t actually care about ‘libertarianism’ (as it means almost anything you want it to mean), I care about free markets. And frankly those are the solution to almost everything.

  • Paul Marks

    Many billionaires SUPPORT the idea of ever higher taxes on billionaires – indeed outright confiscation (as with the ideas of Elizabeth Warren).

    Some billionaires support collectivist style New York City or San Francisco California style taxation and government spending because they really believe in it. They are quite sincere – they may be “ruthless capitalists” but they sincerely want to destroy capitalism and replace it with a more “humane” system of collectivist Social Justice (ever higher taxes and so on).

    But some billionaires do not really believe in collectivist principles – but support them any way.

    Jeff Bezos, allegedly the richest man in the world, is one of the latter – he does NOT believe in the collectivism he pushed via the “Washington Post” and so on.

    Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is NOT a problem – she is just an idiot. Do not waste time thinking about her.

    Jeff Bezos is a problem.

    And NO I do NOT accept the argument that he has to back the Washington Post (and so on) in order to build space ships to save humanity.

    He does not have to do this, and unlike many billionaires he does NOT believe in this Ever-Bigger-Government stuff. All Mr Bezos has to do is STOP – stop pushing the Washington Post and so on, and by just stopping he would do more good than all of us here put together.

    Just STOP.

  • Paul Marks

    If anyone thinks that libertarians are fans of Credit Bubble monetary polices (and their asset price bubbles) or think that libertarians support the ever bigger government history since the early 1870s…..

    Well if anyone thinks that – then, for example, you have not been listening to the bitter attacks of such people as myself (and I have been “attacking the status quo” for about FORTY YEARS).

    I am certainly not a fan of “The City” and “Wall Street” – and the idea that I support endless borrowing to finance endless imports (the policy that has “hollowed out” towns in much of Britain and the United States).

    I see so I “support” the very thing I have been condemning, in the strongest possible terms, for DECADES.

    Thank you.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “A libertarian critique of the status quo is what is needed now, not an apology for it.”

    I gave you one. Unequal pay should be considered a problem in the market because it means there is a shortage of critical skills/experience. The response needed is to produce more people with those skills. The high pay is supposed to encourage people to acquire them. What’s stopping them?

    You can explain it with the example of the socialist classroom. A socialist teacher observes that some kids in her class get very high marks and good exam results while most of the class get low marks. Exams and test scores translate to health, wealth, and happiness in future life, so it’s grossly unfair that some kids have so many high scores while others have none at all.

    The libertarian solution is to try to figure out why the majority of kids are struggling to learn the skills, and teach them better. The socialist solution is to take some of the points and grades from the high scoring kids and give them to the underperformers. Which do you expect works better?

    Inequality is a problem. Poverty is a problem. Free-market Libertarians *do* actually care about that, and want to solve those problems. But it’s not physically possible to solve them just by redistributing test scores. They’re supposed to provide you with an image of the underlying reality to help guide you, but they’re not the reality itself. You cannot actually become an expert mathematician or engineer by cheating on the exam! You’ve got to develop the skills the test scores are measuring to do any good.

    “In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
    But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.””

    It’s a confusion kids going to school often have – that they think the goal of going to school is to get good test scores and exam results. It’s not. The goal is to acquire skills. The exam results just measure how well you did at learning. And it’s the same when getting a job. People think the aim is to earn lots of money. But it isn’t – it’s actually to produce lots of goods and services. The more that is produced, the richer society is. And there’s a major inequality in people’s ability to produce.

    We need to figure out what are the barriers stopping people moving into these high paying jobs, and get rid of them.

    “People have seen their economies hollowed out and their world more or less destroyed by something called “liberal free trade” (whether or not it actually is looks a lot like damnable pedantry to someone reduced to serfdom in the land his ancestors built.)”

    I’m not entirely sure what you’re referring to here – Western economies are richer than ever. What I suspect you mean is industries being destroyed by better, cheaper competition, and either not being able to keep up with progress, or more commonly, refusing to keep up with progress. This is Luddite protectionism, and is the same sort of thinking that underlies socialism.

    Again, protectionism often arises from the belief that the goal of industry is to earn more, rather than to produce more. They try to raise wages, not raise production. And to do so, they raise barriers to keep out the competition. The result is that their wages go up but the production of goods they can buy with them goes down. They wind up poorer – because what they gain from gouging their own customers, they lose even more from every other industry using the same methods gouging them. Protectionism taken to the extreme is always a recipe for a socialist-like economic disaster.

    It’s a misunderstanding of how economics works. The theory has been understood for more than a century, but hardly anyone even nowadays has even a basic understanding. Personally, I reckon they need to add economics to the mathematics curriculum starting in primary school. It’d be a lot more practical than teaching them trigonometry!

    “I don’t see many libertarians who are happy with the status quo, they just don’t tend to think billionares are the problem and I would have to agree with that.”

    The problem is that we don’t have enough billionaires! (Or rather, people with the skills that made them billionaires.)

  • Cesare

    The thing about redistribution, there’s always an enormous bottle neck. Socialism is nothing more than a re-packaging of feudalism.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    “She is saying there’s no inherent right to unlimited personal wealth at the expense of the larger society. That’s not a particularly controversial principle outside of libertarian fever swamps.”

    Several others on this blog have fisked this nonsense, but I’ll have a go as well. The person who wrote this may have read Rob’s and my comments, and yet persists in the assumption that “unlimited” personal wealth is at the “expense of the larger society”. But that is the zero-sum assumption that we have critiqued – so why doesn’t the commenter and others like him/her address this point honestly, without sneering about “fever swamps”?

    In the absence of fraud and force, a billionaire’s wealth is not at the “expense of the larger society” – that wealth is the consequence – to use Rob’s excellent examples – of a businessman/woman supplying a service and product to tens of millions that is worth more to those millions than the money they pay. Result: they get what they want, and the business leader gets stinking rich. That’s it. Done.

    For instance, why not state that some of the fabulous wealth of today’s business leaders has been inflated by quantitative easing, government-set barriers to entry that squeeze competition and protect incumbents, etc? Now that would be a worthwhile point to make. And if AOC, Elizabeth Warren and others playing the looter card in US politics were to focus on those sort of issues, they’d have a point. Heck, AOC for a brief lucid moment made a good point recently in objecting to the huge tax breaks NYC offered to Amazon when it was looking for a new HQ. But all too often we get rabble-rousing rubbish about “the rich” and about how being rich in today’s world must be evil.

    These people are celebrating ignorance of economics like it is a badge of honour. It’s disgraceful.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Just wanted to add that NiV’s comment on how freedom is the solution to so many problems deserves a round of applause.

  • Jon

    Stopped doomsday clock poses an interesting question which has been touched on in other threads – the assertions here of libertarianism’s superiority to socialism are logical and seem almost self evident to me.

    However, they aren’t self evident because most people don’t believe them.

    I don’t think it’s sufficient to just keep reasserting the superiority of libertarianism and I also don’t think it’s sufficient to simply bemoan the state of the education system in the west and call teachers enemies of freedom- we just won’t persuade anyone.

    There are the seeds of some persuasive case studies in this thread though, (really- some of the comments are superb) but I suspect most western humans don’t think they’re locked in a battle between two end state options, I think they see a sliding scale of options across a range of policy areas. My concern is that we are guilty of the same fallacy that afflicts the UK healthcare discussion – that it’s the saintly old NHS or the beastly private healthcare of bonkers America. In order to sustain this view you have to deliberately ignore literally the whole of the rest of the planet.

    Perhaps the collective genius of Samizdatans could embark on a discussion of a series of policy areas where a libertarian case can be made for superior outcomes proactively – then when a simpleton like me is confronted with a collectivist argument for something then I could cite the evidence for my view rather than a sort of a priori appeal to liberty which I think is where we seem to be stuck.

    The problem with socialist arguments is that they’re often correctly diagnosing a problem so ‘doing something’ seems necessary. What is our response?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “However, they aren’t self evident because most people don’t believe them. I don’t think it’s sufficient to just keep reasserting the superiority of libertarianism and I also don’t think it’s sufficient to simply bemoan the state of the education system in the west and call teachers enemies of freedom- we just won’t persuade anyone.”

    I think sometimes it’s easy when you get involved in the details of the fight, to lose sight of the big picture. People keep looking for either absolute victory or absolute defeat, but the real world is more complex and ambiguous than that. Nobody ever wins entirely, and forever. Sometimes the important thing is just to stay in the game.

    Compared to most of human history, this is still an age of fantastic and unprecedented liberty. Markets are freer, speech is freer, religious authorities have lost much of their authoritarian grip, the old aristocrats and royalty are almost entirely ceremonial. We’ve got the internet. We’ve got cryptography that even governments can’t break. A lot of the old persecutions that society practiced against minorities in the past have been ended, even if some new ones have replaced them. And most importantly, even when they break the principles or fight the principles of liberty, they still recognise them. They often don’t fully understand them, or agree with them. They still argue against them. They still have to make excuses for breaking them, and look bad when they’re caught doing so.

    Even for groups that are reviled by the public, like Stormfront, the argument about chucking them off the net was an argument about free speech. When the other side want to ban Muslim preachers on the same grounds, the same argument is made – freedom of speech, freedom of belief. They might disagree that it ought to apply, they might argue that the dangers of allowing them to continue outweigh the benefits of free speech, but the very fact they feel the need to make that argument is, well, something important.

    It’s kind of like the use of Biblical scripture in Medieval power politics. Everyone broke the rules, but they all used such rule-breaking as an effective attack. Not even the Popes lived up to the standards the teachings of Jesus set for them, let alone princes, but none of them could do so openly, or without risk. The ideals of liberty are the moral standard modern politics aspires to today, even when it falls short.

    So given how many authoritarians there are in the world, and how deeply authoritarianism is embedded in human history, cultures, religions, politics, even human psychology – I still think it is entirely remarkable, and a sign of hope for the future, that the ideals of liberty get as much respect and regard as they do.

    No, we’re not going to win overnight. Or in a decade. Or even, I suspect, in the next century. But I don’t see any indication we’re going to lose, either. Our response is to keep on doing what we’re doing. I think it’s working, even if it’s much, much slower than we’d wish.

  • The problem with socialist arguments is that they’re often correctly diagnosing a problem so ‘doing something’ seems necessary. What is our response? (Jon, January 26, 2019 at 8:37 pm)

    The most vital first response – the one that makes other responses possible – is (hilariously) Sir Humphrey Appelby’s:

    Something must be done. This is something, so we must do it.

    The very essence of selling authoritarianism is to make people think that there are easy, obvious, practicable, all-gain-no-pain solutions to the age-old problems of humanity. Your best hope of even having a discussion about them is to start by shaking your hearers’ faith in the noun (‘solution’) and/or in some adjectives.

    That was the point of my (the) very first comment in this thread. Ocasio-Cortez does not even literally say in her tweet that removing billionaires will remove Alabaman ringworm, but she relies on her readers assuming the two are ‘obviously’ connected. Pointing out there’s more ringworm and fewer billionaires in Venezuela breaks that assumed link. It challenges the noun.

    I also hinted a challenge to an adjective. The few surviving Venezuela billionaires are ‘connected’ – Chavez family members and suchlike. OC says these things while wearing designer clothes whose net cost could pay for quite a few ringworm treatments on their own; she is clearly auditioning for the part of Chavez daughter. Character-wise, it is not a long road from denouncing the rich in a three-thousand-dollar outfit to evading Venezuela’s healthcare disaster with a three-billon-dollar bank account.

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