Steve G.

The Cult of the Omnimalevolent State

In Libertarian Party-US on November 10, 2008 at 1:03 pm
Less, I don’t agree at all that any of the candidates in Denver could have “threatened our existence” — not the ex-Republicans, not the universal-healthcare candidate, not the no-legislation-against-pubescent-prostitution candidate, not even Christine Smith.  The lesson I learned from 2008 is inertia — candidates and Libertarian delegates and Libertarian voters and non-Libertarian voters and the media are not easy to deflect from their default path.  Consider:

  • Despite the best efforts of the Radical and Reform caucuses, the vast majority of delegates in Denver didn’t know and didn’t care about the inter-caucus disagreements.
  • The delegates in Denver were extremely skeptical of reformer attempts to fix an SoP that they did not perceive to be broken.
  • The delegates in Denver were extremely skeptical of radical attempts to fix a PlatCom report that they did not perceive to be broken.
  • Despite all the passion around the Barr/Root nomination, the vast majority of the LP closed ranks behind the ticket chosen by the Denver delegates. (I confess that some radicals worked harder for the ticket than I did.)
  • None of the worst radical predictions about the behavior of the ticket — endorsing an opposing candidate, giving up on the LP — came true. (However, they came true about Ron Paul, the darling of so many radicals.)
  • None of the worst radical predictions about media reaction to the ticket came true — Root’s career was treated respectfully, and the un-libertarian parts of Barr’s legislative record occupied only a small fraction of his media coverage.  (Alas, he deflected much of what legislative-record questioning he got with appeals to federalism, which most radicals can forgive only if your name is spelled R-o-n P-a-u-l.)
  • The LP ticket received only a little more than its standard vote share, despite an order of magnitude more national TV coverage than in 2004.
  • The CP ticket received only a little more than its standard vote share, despite an endorsement from a personality-cult leader who this year commanded a million votes and 30 million dollars.

All of the above tell me that is harder than I thought to change the behavior of delegates, voters, and journalists — and I already knew it was very damn hard.  I think you’re fundamentally wrong in saying that the delegates voted against preserving the LP brand.  Rather, I think they were so confident in the durability of the LP’s brand and ideology that they didn’t think a conservative-leaning ticket was any long-term risk to it.  I tend to agree with them.  I share your concern about branding not because I see an existential risk to the LP, but rather because I see an opportunity cost in not making our brand sharply and equally distinct from Left and Right.

What you seem to be saying is that we can’t preserve the LP brand if we ever nominate a former Democrat or Republican politician, or ever try to say that we agree with the good parts of the liberal or conservative agendas.  I strongly disagree. I suspect your analysis is colored by your belief as an anarchist that the LP has no hope of moving public policy in a libertarian direction by persuading people to vote differently — as opposed to persuading people that government is always immoral and always inexpedient.  As long as you insist that the latter is the core of the LP’s mission and brand, then the LP is going to be distracted by infighting — at least until you induce us non-anarchists to give up on the LP.

I would recommend a different strategy to the LP’s anarchists.  You shouldn’t be trying to get the LP to preach anarchism or its functional equivalents, such as personal secession and abolition of everything that might look like taxation (e.g default fines on pollution aggression).  Instead, you should use the LP to 1) give anarchist candidates a chance to preach anarchism through the electoral process, and 2) promote policies that when adopted will make it easier for people to see that anarchism might work.  For (2), I’m thinking of things like radical decentralism (to allow competition among experiments in decreased government), and any policy (like vouchers) that increases market competition in what used to be a government monopoly.

I see school vouchers as a litmus test about whether an anarchist is A) serious about creating conditions in which more people can perceive the workability of anarchism, or B) only interested in political posturing as a consumption good — a way to exhibit ideological purity and self-righteousness.  None of our Libertarian activism is rational if it isn’t in part a consumption good, but I think it becomes purely a consumption good if there is no plan or hope to move public policy in a libertarian direction other than by one new anarchist at a time.  That’s not a political party, that’s a cult — the cult of the omnimalevolent state.

  1. The LP ticket received only a little more than its standard vote share, despite an order of magnitude more national TV coverage than in 2004.

    Exactly! That should finally debunk the bogus argument that we need celebrities or crossover candidates to have an impact. Our ideas and our ability to communicate them, is what sets us apart and earns us serious attention.

  2. Let me suggest that the claim “despite an order of magnitude more national TV coverage than in 2004.” is wrong.

    The coverage was zero for all practical purposes, the same as in 2004. Changing the number of random bits here and there is not significant or effective.

    On the other hand, I suggest that Ron Paul’s “endorsement” of Baldwin had no followthrough, either because Paul meant it as a pro forma effort or because Paul was basically ineffective.

  3. I agree with George that the coverage was basically useless. It’s only useful, as I see it, if it gets you more votes.

    In the case of Barr/Root, it did not.
    Varney/Corey bought into the fallacy that the Itarwebs is the answer to every problem that a campaign might have when it comes to visibility.

    No, getting out, shaking hands and kissing babies is the answer.
    That’s why Obama was in Iowa months before the caucuses.
    That’s why we need a nominee in Iowa months before the caucuses.

    Nominating someone in May for a November election is nothing short of useless and futile.

    Nominating someone in 2010 for a 2012 election is the way to go.
    Get our candidate in Iowa, get our candidate out there in the trenches, talking about liberty, talking about libertarian ideals, talking about the issues that will be facing us after two years of an Obama presidency. Getting enough polling numbers to get into the national debates, that’s coverage, baby.

    Anything else is just whacking off.

  4. Steve, all due respect, but the “ability to communicate” requires a credible forum to communicate from. That requires credibility, something “player”/former congressman has, and some “celebrities” might have. Otherwise, we have trees falling in the forest that few, at least, will hear.

    Building long term credibility takes time, especially for a challenging 3rd party, several cycles at least, I’d suggest.

  5. Your test sucks. Even mainstream lib John Stossel has expressed doubts about the efficacy of vouchers, noting the likelihood that it would bring further entrenchment of the state into education.

  6. It’s always nice to be reminded of the civility standards of the Radical Caucus triumvirs.

    Stossel indeed rightly cautions about the potential dangers of government funding, but he nevertheless says “a voucher experiment is a good thing, and far superior to a government-run monopoly”. Even an anarcholibertarian like David Friedman has spoken favorably of vouchers as a way to start getting the government out of education — where (bad news!) it’s already completely entrenched. For 89% of K-12 customers, the government already has total control of

    * service boundaries,
    * inter-district busing,
    * admissions policy,
    * capital spending decisions,
    * textbook selection,
    * curriculum standards, including treatment of creationism, the Bible, gay marriage, etc.
    * testing standards,
    * teacher hiring standards,
    * union rules,
    * prayer in school,
    * pledge of allegiance,
    * school uniforms,
    * religious calendar and observance,
    * zero-tolerance rules for toy weapons,
    * campus smoking,
    * drug testing,
    * PE requirements,
    * etc. etc.

    With vouchers, the government’s bureaucrats would have much less control over the education industry, and (if done right) not much more control over schools than food stamps gives them over grocery stores. The first step is to get the federal government completely out of the education business, and then watch while government education keeps getting worse until some jurisdiction gets serious about trying vouchers.

  7. Note that much of higher education in America is funded on a basis similar to vouchers, with much more intense competition for students among schools, and the result is that American higher education is the envy of the world. Our K-12, not so much.

  8. With vouchers, the government’s bureaucrats would have much less control over the education industry,

    What’s the basis for this statement? Logically, it seems that whether it’s vouchers or direct subsidies, the money is coming from the same place, and the man who pays the piper gets to call the tune, no?

    The sole benefit of vouchers, it seems to me, is that they can allow a greater selection among state-controlled educational outlets. Whether that benefit outweighs the risk of turning once-private outlets into state-controlled outlets is the core of disagreement among libertarians, it seems.

    Note that much of higher education in America is funded on a basis similar to vouchers, with much more intense competition for students among schools, and the result is that American higher education is the envy of the world. Our K-12, not so much.

    Correlation is not causation.

  9. Note that much of higher education in America is funded on a basis similar to vouchers, with much more intense competition for students among schools, and the result is that American higher education is the envy of the world.

    You would be shocked how much we spend on student recruitment per freshman enrolled at my state-supported university.

    There is definitely competition among institutions of higher education, especially as the percentage of funding coming from state coffers is shrinking at public institutions and a sour market chips away at the endowments of private institutions.

    Butts in seats means we get to keep on the heat! Can you imagine a public middle school “folding” due to slipping enrollment caused by an inferior product?

  10. Susan, the basis of the statement you question includes the 17-item list preceding it, and the grocery store analogy following it. Who pays the piper indeed calls the tune, and both vouchers and tax credits lets parents decide which piper gets paid. Right now, parents can direct their funds to another piper only by selling their house and buying one in a different school district. That doesn’t give the piper much incentive to play the requested tunes.

    Yes, market competition correlates very highly with increased product quality. It’s interesting that you have such faith about what market competition will accomplish in the fantasy — I mean, counterfactual — world of zero government, but are skeptical about what market competition is accomplishing here in the real world. For an empirical study of 13 different voucher and tax credit programs in the real world, see the paper Grading Vouchers by the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation.

  11. A few things:

    1)Vouchers and/or tax credits won’t matter much as long as education is mandatory. “NOTA” should always be an option.

    2)It’s not just national coverage, but where the national coverage is. More people get their news from local and national network news than from the cable news networks. Bob Barr was on Glenn Beck, but how many people watch Beck as opposed to CBS, NBC, or ABC evening news?

  12. vortex, please expand on what you mean by “won’t matter.” if vouchers allow some parents to get their kids out of poorgovt schools and into a better private schools, thatwould seem to matter…for them, at minimum.

  13. Robert, if the vouchers cover only 25% of the private school cost, assuming no waiting list and your child actually gets in, and the family cannot afford the other 75%, yet they can get their kids educated for no further out of pocket besides their property taxes, which route will they take? Most will take the public route, which is why vouchers don’t work–not robust enough.

    And you’ll never see vouchers be more than the per-student expenditure level, either, because then the pro-teacher-union crowd will whine about “their” funding being taken and given to private schools. (I know, I know!)

  14. Instead of pulling numbers out of an orifice, why not just check the data? The Friedman Foundation rank 21 school choice programs, and 5 of the top 7 provide at least 75% of the per-pupil-funding of the government’s monopoly schools. School choice in fact already has very impressive empirical results, despite the limited amount that it’s been tried.

    You should only think that vouchers need to exceed public schools in per-student funding if you believe that competing private schools would be less efficient than government monopoly schools — or that the fixed costs in a private solution would always outweigh the sunk costs of the existing monopoly. If you think that, then for what other industries besides K-12 education do you think existing government monopolies are more efficient than private competition?

  15. I’m sorry, Brian. In the future, I’ll strive to demonstrate at least the level of respect for your ideas as you have afforded mine.

    If I thought that it would be implemented “right”, then of course I would support vouchers and consider them a net gain. Same with the fair tax. However, like the notion of a constitutionally bound government, I think it would work out much differently in practice.

    As an alternative measure of seriousness, I suggest a more secular, more inclusive test. I would ask for a record of commitment level, such as “Have you (over past campaign season, year, etc) exerted the maximum practical effort toward spreading liberty?” The answer could be in percentages, based on your expendable resources and commitments.

  16. Morey, I’ll agree with you that the differences between a reasonable anarchist and a reasonable minarchist come down to counterfactual judgments based on the empirical/historical record — as opposed to deontological absolutism about what’s moral and what’s immoral.

    My earlier remark was about civility; I’ve never questioned your seriousness or commitment. I’m spending 100% of my evening tomorrow at a meeting of the water board I just go elected to. If you want to know more about my activism effort, much of it is described at http://libertarianmajority.net/bh-lp-activism

    If you’re looking for something to do tomorrow, I’d love it if you made a generic LP commercial with the same script and visuals of your “Pro-Choice on Everything” commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__fQBgCQ-44 . It’s by far the best talking-spokesman/candidate LP commercial I’ve ever seen.

  17. michael, what brian said, plus read some economics on marginal costs. all action is at the margin is the short version.

  18. Mr. Mize is right on track. The LP has to find a way to put its candidates in Iowa the same day the first Democratic, or Republican candidate sets foot in that state.
    So how well organized is the LP in Iowa?
    Does the LP participate in the caucus process there?

    On to another point.

    Brian I am totally convinced that issues like education are subject to problems such as the tragedy of the commons just like a hay field is. The quality of K-12 education in this country has been declining for decades and is not improving, nor is there much chance of it doing so as long as the government runs it. The quality of teachers in the
    K-12 system is poor. Especially in the middle school level. That is not to say that there are not outstanding dedicated teachers in the profession, but they are few and far between. Education majors as a group have one of the lowest SAT averages of any group.

    There has been some research that suggest that in state colleges and universities higher education systems those who benefit most in some states are primarily from the upper middle and upper class. Oregon, Florida and I think Ohio were prime examples of this. There we see an emphasis, not on academics, but on sports. Not for the students, but the alumni.

    It is an uphill battle, but Libertarians should be talking about the quality issue first and foremost.

    MHW

  19. I don’t understand what commons — i.e. what rival non-excludable resource like air or a water table or the EM spectrum — is involved in K-12 education.

    The primary market failure I see in K-12 education is that poor minors needing tuition money are not allowed to enter into long-term contracts that surrender a fraction of the alleged increase in earnings that a tuition investment would buy them. If education investments are as wise as we liberals claim, then such contracts should be able to make education for the poor self-financing. In the absence of such contracts, I don’t mind the geolibertarian citizen’s dividend financing tuition vouchers for poor families. There is no more need for the government to own and operate schools than to own and operate grocery stores.

  20. Brian you are looking at public education through the wrong lens, er end.

    From the teacher’s end in many states it is about decent pay, two months off every year, great benefits and retire after thirty. Taking care of a child’s education requirements is simply a means to that end. If that child is unruly, then dose them with drugs.

    If you are a leader in the NEA, or AFT it is about union members, potential voters and more dues coming in to the union. Ever hear the unions complain about the low quality of teachers? I certainly have not. They do complain about the lack of parental involvement and having too many students in the classroom. Of course fewer students per teacher means more teachers, more dues, more potential voters to go door to door.

    And since parents are not paying for any of this directly they really don’t care. But if you sent them a bill each month for their child’s education, I bet many of them would change their attitudes towards their child’s education. Otherwise it is a shared community responsiblity and someone else will take care of it.

    MHW

  21. Ah, by “tragedy of the commons” here you mean the lack of per-family ability to shop for more efficient schools and to capture the marginal savings caused by exerting such consumer pressure. Yes, those are essential features of competition, and are somewhat analogous how efforts to care for a commons are not properly rewarded. However, a true commons has to be inherently non-excludable, rather than being something that by government fiat is currently shared. Alas, forced sharing can create commons-like tragedies for any kind of good.

  22. Brian in reply to your comment above. I’ll only say no. Your definaition of what I mean is incorrect. Secondly where do you get the idea that “a true commons has to be inherently non-excludable”? I’ve never heard that before. It may, or may not exclude others and their actions, or inactions.

  23. I am glad to see Mr. Holtz pointing out the double standards of the Radical Caucus on the Barr-Paul question.

    The same radicals slamming Bob Barr on various assortments of issues literally overlooked (or even defended) Ron Paul for the same positions — or even more extreme ones.

    It was a riot watching GE Smith, for instance, slam Bob Barr for not going far enough to renounce DOMA — when Ron Paul continually reiterated his undying support for that law.

    I won’t even get into border debates, taxes, Ron Paul’s penchant for pork, “states’ rights,” etc., etc., etc.

  24. Mr Miller are you suggesting that Mr. Holtz questioned everyone of the radical caucus members in order to come to the conclusion? I wasn’t aware that he had, or perhaps the caucus had voted on the issue? Interesting. Guess I have to be careful whom I associate with.

    MHW

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