Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

Libertarian takedown of the day

Thought I’d throw a log on the pyre (does one throw logs onto pyres?…) on which I’ve been burning libertarianism’s corpse.

Thomas Levenson, do your work:

I don’t read McArdle much because I know she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and the glibness of her ignorance and the infantile quality of her ideology (that brand of libertarianism present in populations that include my nine-year-old and that can be summed up “you can’t tell me what to do”) piss me off.  Why read annoying, uninformed –if glibly written — dreck?But Andrew Sullivan, who is one of the most infuriatingly variable bloggers in the quality of his bullshit detector, pointed me to this post by McArdle, calling it a “must-read.”

The post of McArdle’s in question was on why she opposes a public presence in healthcare.

Click over to the post for his actual deconstruction of the arguments she makes.

I will say that his starting by mocking her lack of academic credentials is pretty douchy. But then, he’s the expert is scientific rhetoric (head of the Science Writing program at MIT), so what do I know? Maybe there’s some legitimacy to ad homiems in fair scientific deliberation that I didn’t realize… maybe his have a scientifically detached quality that I didn’t detect.

Take it away Tom…

The proposition with which this post began was that McArdle knows nothing of economics or political economy, beyond that minimum of jargon needed to cloak her adolescent Randian delusions in the veneer of policy knowledge.  In this post, her manifesto on why she opposed national health care, she demonstrates the arguing skills of a six year old (that conclusion contained within an assumption not in evidence); the reportorial effort and acuity formerly celebrated in The National Enquirer (the too-good-to-check school of journalism), and an understanding of modern biomedical research exceeded by the potted plants in Building 68 at MIT.

H/t and a half to Thomas (a different one) for this who e-mailed the post to me with reference to a point I had made, in heavy reliance on Megan McArdle, trying to reconstruct the anti-public-healthcare argument in our debate about Camille Paglia (I’ll find the specific post later if I remember).


48 Responses to “Libertarian takedown of the day”

  1. It’s an Ad Hominem attack, not an ad homiems, young master. Also, extension.

    If you can’t spell those right, you obviously don’t have the credentials to be taken seriously. I don’t even need to read the rest of your argument.

    I apologize for the rudeness, but I can never resist smirking at such delicious irony.

  2. Lulz.

  3. Don’t know if I can say that I understand the irony. Never mind the “delicious irony.”

    Spleling smoetimse gets fukced up, and not evryone hs a proofredar.

    But stupid arguments are STILL stupid, and deconstructions of stupid arguments that point out stupid arguments’ stupidity in a systematic, logical, and cogent way are STILL not stupid. The spell-checked perfection of the former never refutes the hastily written kick-assedness of the latter.

    So again, I don’t get it. How is a typo within Discursor’s post comparable to Levenson’s takedown of McArdle? Or demonstrative of Discursor’s brains? How is a typo analogous to glibly spouting off bullshit and demanding (while being given a space within which to demand to a large audience) that your bullshit be approached with reverence?

    Point is, Megan McArdle just got called on it. She has no clothes. Do you hear me? Megan McArdle has no clothes! Megan McArdle has no clothes!

    Say it with me now.

  4. I hate explaining irony.

    The post of Megan McArdle getting “called on it” was almost entirely an unsubstantiated ad hominem attack completely unrelated to her argument – as Ben said – it dealt at greater length with her degree and a possible mistake about pharma companies which was just a throw-away line in her argument in any case.

    Because the whole thing is a classic ad hominem, I, as a joke, pulled a similar, and admittedly childish, one on Ben. After all, NONE of what Ben cited from Levenson’s ‘takedown’ was an argument at all, those two paragraphs don’t present a single cogent argument, but are instead a long and belabored character assassination.

    Hopefully Ben got it. No offense to you, Ben – I assumed that was why you posted it and pointed to this childishness. In sum, what I guess I’m saying is: “Fuck MIT professors, they don’t know shit from dick – but this one knows him some logical fallacies.”

  5. My own favorite part happened to be when a (supposed) professor of economics weighed in in the comments and Tom says “you don’t need to condescend to those with whom you disagree.”

    His reply, classic:

    “I hope you meant this as a joke because in this very post you wrote “I very rarely read Megan McArdle. She gets filtered by the “life is too short to read stupid people” mesh.”

  6. Oh, Jesus.

    He talks plenty of shit, admittedly, but there’s substance to the argument through and through. Go ahead and click the link provided and READ the actual article. Then READ it again, because you clearly weren’t paying attention. (Except to the commenter who, surprise, agrees with you.)

    I mean, none of what B cited presented a cogent argument because he quoted two paragraphs that were a thousand words away from one another. They were, for what it’s worth, two of my favorite paragraphs, but if you took them to be THE argument, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.

    Again, read the article.

    The main point of it is to disabuse McArdle of the notion that the gub’mint would play a negative role if it were to be more involved in healthcare. He does so by focusing on medical research, something that McArdle knows nothing about and about which she gets the facts patently wrong–and yet something that she feels eminently qualified to comment on. It’s not (mostly) “Megan McArdle is an idiot because I said so, and I work at MIT,” it is instead (mostly), “Megan McArdle is an idiot for saying x,y, and z, which are demonstrably false, as I shall now show.” He also points out the frequent circularity of her arguments with…. an example, and some colorful language. What’s wrong with that?

    Another task it takes up is asking whether someone who frequently presents herself as an expert on a particular subject should actually, you know, have some expertise. That’s a valid question. I mean, there are people who pass the bar without law school, and people who do publishable theoretical physics in their spare time and with no formal training. But McArdle’s not one of them, and as Levenson points out, she frequently doesn’t even bother to get BASIC facts right.

    It’s not an ad hominem attack to call someone foolish after they’ve proven their own foolishness. But if you don’t like having your pet journalists called out on it, you should probably avoid the blogosphere.

    In conclusion, I still don’t understand the irony. Please explain.

  7. Not worth it. Toodles.

  8. This iz dilishiss guise! I ❤ flamewarz!

    Ad hominem: I think you're both pompous (maybe not as much as Levenson), BUT! pomposity doesn't define the validity of arguments.

    My issue with Levenson was that I think he made a poor rhetorical choice (especially for a supposed expert) in beginning his argument by attacking McArdle's lack of elite high-level academic training. And Tom, I think, based on this post, you should agree.

    To my mind one should start with the actual substantive argument (and his arguments on substance, I agree with Tom, are powerful). Once you’ve done that, take your pot shots. Tell the dilettante to go to mo’ fucking class. At that point it’ll feel less petty and elitist.

    So to recap: IMHO It’s a good and persuasive post with a douchy intro.

    PS – Andrew: I need to pack up my apt. today and then go to a birthday party, but I’ll go back and respond to your unanswered points on my original “libertarianism is stupid” post tomorrow.

    • I agree that it’s a bit over the top, and sure the order of operations could’ve been a bit more elegant. And you know, McArdle’s entitled to her opinions, no matter how batty and ignorant.

      But I also said in the post you cited, “I try to stay away from things that I can’t really speak to.” That is, I try not to write on subjects that I might look like an ass writing about, because I might get called out on looking like an ass.

      I envy McArdle her position of public celebrity, but if I had even half of her readership (who am I kidding? Even a fifth, a tenth, a twentieth), I’d probably try to at least get basic facts right. Otherwise I might be made to look like an ass by someone with a firm grasp of the basic facts. And then I’d feel bad about myself. And then I would cry.

  9. […] August 1, 2009 · Leave a Comment But you’ve gotta go here to read it, and you’ve got to click on the comments. […]

  10. I’m sorry. This is why I didn’t want to explain. Firstly, did I, anywhere above, defend McArdle’s position? I only said, in effect, that Levenson made an obnoxious ad hominem attack. That’s really all I said. Levenson had already turned me off with 10 (!) paragraphs of unadulterated ad hominem – past the woodcut engraving of a fool – so I really didn’t give a shit about his arguments on health care reform. I was too busy thinking he was a pretentious asshole.

    To Tom, it is absolutely an ad hominem attack, virtually in its entirety. He takes 1 or 2 possible mistakes (how much do you or I really know about health care research by pharma companies? Can we judge?) and attempts to tar the entire argument with stupidity, bad-faith, and ignorance.

    For instance, McArdle makes the completely reasonable argument that political decision making in health care will be different from market-based decision making. Of course it will. I don’t know how you could argue against that. One aims at popularity (votes), the other at profit (bling!). The meat of his reply is “And yet her argument begins with the assumption that the government will do one thing and not another ” and then implying she’s making a circular argument. Does he really think government and market based decision making will make the same choices in every case? Perhaps he assumes government decision making would be consistently better in every case simply because it is “for the common good”? But he quickly moves to harping on her supposed ‘ignorance’ of medical research. Although god help me, I don’t understand how the fact that one medicine (Taxol) took only 15 years from drug candidate to market under our current system proves a damn thing about the future system, not to mention other medicines.

    Levenson later takes her obesity comments, I think, disproportionately. Once health care comes under the purview of government and becomes a political issue, it would not at all surprise me if current cultural prejudices against the obese or smokers, for that matter, were played out in the political sphere. His reply to this? “No, seriously Megan, shut up. This is just crazy….birtherism for the gliterate crowd.”

    The funniest part of it, for me, is that he doesn’t even have a clue what sort of plan he’s advocating. In fact, that’s one of the reasons he argues against her – that she doesn’t even know what sort of public option she is opposing, so she can’t assume it will take over health care. He, on the other hand, just wants SOME sort of government intervention, some sort of public plan, whatever it may be.

    Levenson “is a bad faith debater — and he has to be, because she knows the answer (government (a usually unexamined term) good, markets bad) that must be reached.” (note my alterations)

    Perhaps he should add: “I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right.” (And so my post ends with a whimpering ‘name that movie challenge’)

    It shouldn’t take y’all too long to tear that apart.

  11. Better response later (still packing… *exasperated cussing*), but one quick point in response to Andrew’s reworking of Levenson’s quote in his 3rd to last par.:

    I’ll speak for myself (but I think both Levenson and Tom would agree with me on this… Tom?), but the point isn’t that the market is good and the government bad or vice versa. Both should be looked at with suspicion, especially when they over reach. Health care in America is an area where the market has drastically overreached. Conversely, the war on drugs is an area where the government has drastically overreached. The point is that either way, one is the best counterbalance we have against the other—more government in healthcare, more (non clandestine) market in drugs—which is why we need to always have an active public debate on what balance makes the most sense in a given policy area at a given moment in history.

  12. “Health care in America is an area where the market has drastically overreached.” In what ways? Unless you explain, it seems to me very much like an assumption without evidence.

    Please take into consideration that Medicare, Medicaid, and other government spending already controls 45% of health care spending in America. The rest is, for the most part, “socialized by workplace.” I could very well make the case that the government has already overreached in health care and is unintentionally causing these market distortions.

  13. Come now Andrew. I spent several thousand words of our discussion in and under this post laying out reasons for why I think that. Big market actors are so powerful that they’re setting the government’s agenda (which is to gtfo of Dodge unless it’s more profitable to them because it allows them to take the most expensive patients off of their rolls–and by “Dodge” I mean the health sector) against the public interest. I agree that people have a responsibility to be able to justify their position, but I’m not going to force feed it to you if you refuse to acknowledge it.

    And Medicare and Medicaid are as expensive as they are because the market is scewed towards a profiteering health industry that is interested in putting itself in as powerful of a position as it can relative to the health ‘consumer.’ And even still, Medicare and medicaid are far more efficient than private insurance (low single digit % overhead, versus mid teens). AND access to those programs is restricted (meaning restricted choice).

    At root, the reason they account for such a high percentage of health expenditures is that they cover the most expensive patients, patients who private insurance spends a shit ton of money trying to get out of covering (see last weeks “This American Life” episode… the 3rd act.

  14. On this topic, I strongly recommend this article from ’06.

  15. Truthfully, it really doesn’t matter how many words you spent if you haven’t satisfied my objections.

    The biggest actor in the health care market is the government. If I can oversimplify your argument, you’re saying that the health market is bad because certain companies are making “too much” (however you’re defining it) profit. How much is too much? Can that standard be applied to other industries? Should it?

    After all, isn’t every industry interested in “putting itself in as powerful of a position as it can relative to [its] consumer”? What is keeping them from doing it in other industries like food, clothes, housing insurance, automobiles, etc. I should think it is the competition between firms – but that isn’t happening in health care.

    So our question should be “why isn’t there adequate competition in health care?” I suspect its because the majority of Americans are given tax-free health care benefits by their employers – (socialized by employer) and so never see their true health care costs or shop around as they would in other industries. Its not that the firms have done anything wrong, they’re not a cartel, its that the system as currently constituted is virtually nonsensical. They’re trying to act rationally in an irrational system.

    So the solution is easy. Tax health care benefits the same as all other income (it is, after all, income) and wait for the market for health insurance to adjust to this new reality. Let people buy their health care insurance just like any other commodity – as individuals or families from a private firm.

    Side Note: Why won’t Obama release the names of the health care lobbyists he’s meeting with? That disturbs me.

    In any case, taking a system that is largely “socialized by employer” and merely making it “federally socialized” is not going to fix anything.

    Also, not sure how efficient we can call Medicare and Medicaid when they have over 60 billion dollars of fraud every year.


  16. Touche re: your first paragraph. The question is whether what it takes to satisfy your expectations is reasonable, which amounts to whether or not you have any curiosity in actually understanding what the position you claim to disagree with actually is. If you think that my argument against the health industry is at root about some people “making too much,” well… it gives me serious pause on whether or not you actually do have that kind of curiosity. You think I’m some resentful scab ranting jealously about how some people are rich? Dood! What I have a problem with is people making money exploitatively (taking more wealth out of the system even than they create for themselves and doing so by deliberately misleading people.) There’s nothing essentially wrong with making money, just like there’s nothing essentially wrong in, for example “teaching”… it’s how you make money, and how you teach that defines its moral status.

    Re: your 3rd paragraph, you think that saying that private health insurance could be like the food and automobile industries helps your point at all? I mean especially the food industry… my gawd have they got consumers in a choke hold!

    There can only be rational competition if consumers understand what they’re buying. The kind of anti-consumer collusion (not illegal collusion… because they’ve successfully lobbied to render the law more favourable to what they do) that exists in the health industry, in the food industry, and in the automotive industry precludes that.

    Consumers can’t think economistically about health care. As I said previously (and as you acknowledged but now totally disregard), it’s too immediate, it’s too particular, and they’re at a massive information disadvantage. Any competition that develops on those terms will be as irrational as the terms themselves (garbage in garbage out). Hence, even though government is relatively less efficient than markets can be at their best, at least its administration of the sector can be more rational from a consumer perspective in that it will be oriented towards mitigating consumer vulnerabilities rather than exploiting them.

    On your side note: Hear hear!

    Re your last point: 60 billion in fraud (which amounts to about 8% of the total budget of the two programs is a frightening number. But if we’re going to compare apples, lets compare apples. Two points: (1) there is fraud in the private sector too accounting for considerably higher costs for other consumers (having a hard time getting stats which the conspiracy theorist in me wants to attribute to the health insurance industry hushing the numbers up… I’ll keep looking); and (2) the difference between administrative costs in Medicare vs. private insurance is approximately 9%, [added for clarity: which more than compensates for the fraud loss.]

    Fraud makes me angry, but while emotions should be considered when making policy, emotions shouldn’t make policy. Amirite?

    PS – FYI, if you want to hotlink specific words the HTML code (where “[” is actually “<"…) is [a href="URL"]Word[/a].

  17. Please explain how

    “Big market actors are so powerful that they’re setting the government’s agenda (which is to gtfo of Dodge unless it’s more profitable to them because it allows them to take the most expensive patients off of their rolls–and by “Dodge” I mean the health sector) against the public interest.”

    does not mean, in essence, “they are making too much money and not doing as much service as I think necessary.” Exploitative, your explanation, is a purely subjective term.

    If you mean there is public/private collusion – how would greater government involvement help?

    We already have laws about information disclosure. Do you think they are at fault/incomplete? Or that health insurance companies are not, in practice, bound by their contracts?

    The problem is that consumers don’t care because they do not, under the current system, choose their health insurance provider – their employer does. Or the government provides it free of charge. Either way, there is no consumer choice in the equation and little direct competition between health care firms.

    If you go back and read my ‘acknowledgement’ about health care being difficult to commodify, you’ll see I said “isn’t this an argument that the decision should be left up to the individual consumer?” I stand by that.

    Try to avoid implying that I’m stupid in the future. It’s annoying and a waste of both our time.

  18. You’re right, from the subjective perspective of patients and citizens, the health industry is exploitive. From the perspective of the health industry, it’s self-consciously predatory (on this point check out Bill Moyer’s Journal episode called “Profits before Patients“). That, if anything, makes the point more valid. From what other perspective should we be making policy? God’s?

    Government assertion of the public interest, rather than defference to the private interests of the industry lobby, would help a lot. Again, here’s an excellent article spelling it out.

    The laws about information disclosure have been juked by lobbying.

    I agree that tying healthcare to employment is dumb.

    I grant that I forgot about your “left up to the individual consumer part.” Anyway, it doesn’t make any sense. The entire point about it being hard to commodify, is that it’s incredibly hard for the individual consumer to think economistically when they’re buying health care. If they have the option to opt out of a completely irrational private system where they’re demanded to think economistically (which they can’t…) and instead enroll in a public plan that isn’t actively trying to suck away their money, then how is that reducing the choicerange of the individual consumer?

    I’m sorry Andrew, I don’t think you’re stupid. What I think is that you’re perniciously oversubscribed to an ideology at the cost of your own critical judgment. I genuinely want you to prove me wrong.

  19. I’m sorry – every patient in every interaction with every health insurance company under every insurance plan believes he/she is being exploited? Is that genuinely what you believe? I don’t buy that – and neither does a majority of Americans who are in general satisfied with their current health insurance. (The last poll I saw said 70%)

    Every industry is self-consciously exploitative if you define self-consciously exploitative as “making a profit.” How much profit/margin makes it exploitative? On what basis are you making that judgment? And was I right in saying that you take offense to how much money the health insurance industry is making? Or is it just too much profit when people’s lives are at stake? Should all healthcare providers be forced to become non-profits?

    Who defines the public interest? A majority of voters? The party in power? Government bureacrats? You? That is not a minor issue. Please explain how you would propose to weigh that “public good” against the “cost” of any health care program.

    The fact that it is hard to commodify makes it a difficult task for the consumer, who has to weigh their personal needs/wants/situation against the medical treatment offered (see my admittedly silly example in a previous post). But it makes it even more difficult for a third party, such as a government bureacracy, to decide the proper cost of that good in every situation. We cannot simply define government actors as moral and market actors as immoral because of the profit motive. (As I believe you did when you said “a public plan that isn’t actively trying to suck away their money”)

    Finally, you’ve mocked my answer of the Social Good (i.e. greatest freedom of choice). What do you believe is the end that a ‘good’ society should work towards? How does a universal health care system (even the best one) affirm that goal?

    If I am perniciously oversubscribed, well, for my part, I only think that you never encountered my ideology before – at least, not beyond the level of hostile caricature. Which perhaps explains why my ideology is generally given so little credit in the public sphere, if even a learned political scientist is unaware of it. My advice is to take the chance to learn from this rarest of opportunities and to continue to be open-minded.

    Want an even better encounter? Try Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.” It won’t take but a few hours to read.

  20. Dude, my eyes have fallen out of my sockets.

    You complain that I imply that you’re stupid—which I genuinely didn’t intend, by the by, I intended to say that I think you’re wrong, which to me is very different (I think Robert MacNamara was wrong too, but the man was undisputably brilliant)—and then imply that I’ve never encountered “real” libertarianism? And then you bring up Hayek as if he’s some sort of obscure and under-appreciated pariah? Not given credit in the public sphere??? There probably hasn’t been a more influential economic theorist than Hayek since Keynes, and Hayek has had a far bigger policy impact since the late 70s than Keynes has. Have I represented myself in your eyes so ignorantly that you don’t think I would have heard of and studied fucking Friedrich Hayek?? Dude, I’m a political theorist. This shit is what I do.

    Anyway, if you want to know why Hayek is wrong read Theodore Adorno and/or Habermas on the positivist dispute. They absolutely demolish Karl Popper’s epistemological framework; a framework on which Hayek is pretty much completely dependent. Ultimately the problem is that they found their social theories in an argumentative position that deceives itself into thinking that it’s taking some kind of “objective” position in observing society while completely failing to recognize its own implication in it (there is no sample earth). It then takes it upon itself to quantify everything in the simplest terms possible, with the result that it it fails to recognize historical and social contingency. It ends up being hypostetizing and reifying of what is far from an ideal order, though it’s one that they work tirelessly to bring into accordance with pristine mathematical modeling that has nothing to do, again, with how people actually experience their lives (and would thus be expreienced as no less repressive than the messy system that we live in now). Essentially it paints itself into an uncritical corner and becomes an engine, under the name of social emancipation, for the complete opposite of that.

    And if you don’t believe Frankfurt Schoolers, the same fact/value distinction that is at the core of the Hayek/Popperian approach to social theory was obliterated from a conservative moral perspective by Leo Strauss in the essay I cited in either my first or second response to you ages ago. The reason why it persists in popularity is that it’s systemically convenient.

    But anyway, that was one eye, here’s what popped the other one out:

    You don’t think there’s a substantive moral and economic difference between a system in which people make their profits by competing honestly and one in which people advance by misleading and cheating their competitors and customers?! Dood… fo’ srs? How can you complain about my “mocking” your notion of “freedom of choice” when your understanding of choice is so impoverished that you can’t see that an economic system that rewards deception should be looked at with suspicion for the very fact that it diminishes choice.

    If you want to know where I’m coming from I subscribe to the enlightenment ideal of maximizing meaningful autonomy, both public and private (which I think are co-original goods each of which must presuppose the other if it is to be actualized). Anyway, I can’t do it justice here, but if you want, I can e-mail you my thesis which lays my working moral philosophy and theory of society out in pretty comprehensive detail.

    I do want to give you props though for staying in the ring. I mean, the reason why I don’t think of myself as a liberal is that I don’t believe that people should be able to advocate policy position without making themselves available for constructive critical interrogation, and though i still think that you’re looking at the world through long delegitimated neo-positivist lenses, I’m happy that you’re passionate enough about them to defend them. I honestly think that the biggest problem with democracy in the West these days is that people are soo argumentatively passive and disempowered. I’m glad that you’re not.

    Pretty sure the above is rambling and semi-incoherent. I’ve been running on 4 hours a night for almost a week and am having trouble putting thoughts together. Good news though: thesis is in.

  21. “You don’t think there’s a substantive moral and economic difference between a system in which people make their profits by competing honestly and one in which people advance by misleading and cheating their competitors and customers?! Dood… fo’ srs?”

    [citation needed] Seriously, where did I say anything remotely like that that? Tell me what words made your eyes pop out. I asked you to define exploitative. You declined.

    “Have I represented myself in your eyes so ignorantly that you don’t think I would have heard of and studied fucking Friedrich Hayek??”

    Yes. If you had encountered him, you certainly didn’t appear able to argue against him meaningfully. My arguments are almost entirely right out of that tradition.

    Nice job declaring victory. Very nice backhanded compliment. Take that as you will. Peace and keep on truckin’

    • When did I declare victory? To be in an ongoing argument with someone is to typically think that they’re wrong. No? I’m still open to your convincing me that you’re not just an evangelist for the church of libertarianism or that libertarianism is somehow worth signing over my critical independence for, but from my perspective you’ve been treading further from the boat in the past few posts. But then that’s just my opinion, and yes, it’s subjective… I don’t have claim to anything more. I certainly don’t have claim to the sense of moral certainty that apparently comes with self-identifying as a libertarian.

      I said explicitly that I don’t define exploitative as making a profit, but as making a profit through deception (which is not systemically necessary given proper government oversight and market regulation, which is contingent on government independence from the most powerful actors on the supply side of a given industry). A distinction you twice failed to acknowledge. Sounds to me like you just don’t see it. Am I wrong?

      Re: Hayek

      “Yes. If you had encountered him, you certainly didn’t appear able to argue against him meaningfully. My arguments are almost entirely right out of that tradition.”

      …is not a counter-argument. It doesn’t even pretense at being a counter-argument. It’s just a big “Nuh-huh!!1” You made absolutely no effort to demonstrate that you even understood what I was trying to say, nor that you even tried to understand what I was trying to say. I grant that it may not be the clearest thing in the world… I’m trying to summarize several hundred pages of complex theoretical argument in a paragraph on 4 hours sleep. But, if we’re going to argue constructively I need you at least to try to act like you care about getting at my actual meaning.

      And re: the “back-handed compliment.” I genuinely think it’s admirable for people to press on with debates when they get hard rather than just storm off indignantly. It performatively shows respect that you would persist in trying to convince me. If you don’t believe that I mean that, again, I can e-mail you my thesis… in it I argue at length for the value of this.

      • Incidentally, to add to my first paragraph, an inability to distinguish between wrong and stupid seems symptomatic to me of what I’ve been claiming all along: that libertarianism is not so much a critical perspective, but is in fact a quasi-religious dogma.

  22. “but as making a profit through deception”

    yes, and by “taking more wealth out of the system even than they create for themselves.”

    I asked you about that part. I missed your focus on deception – you took it for granted in the next part, I moved on to asking you about the moral hazard of profit itself, if there is one. I take it for granted that making money through deception is morally wrong. You would still have to prove that assertion, and I think throughout the industry, in the case of health care. And that government involvement would somehow lessen that hazard.

    Why I said: “If you had encountered him, you certainly didn’t appear able to argue against him meaningfully.”

    It’s not a counter-argument. You asked a question, I answered it. Here’s why I answered it that way.

    You appeared to me throughout our discussions genuinely unaware of the argument for limited government and unfamiliar with libertarian thought. You thought their social goal was “greater systemic efficiency,” you have constantly argued that government actors are more moral than private actors, didn’t seem familiar with my government/society distinction at first glance – central to that thought (you thought I was being a religious nut), and have been consistently unwilling to define more accurately the term “the public interest,” which I have more than once asked you to define or at least tell me who, in society, should make that definition. These are all central to Hayek’s thought, in my view, so I believed, wrongly, that you were unfamiliar with him. I then twisted the knife because I believed you were patronizing me.

    As to the “Back-Handed compliment” and declaring victory, I took it that way because you buried me in gobbledygook in paragraph 3, asserting Hayek was wrong without any clear explanation as far as I can understand, and then said “Thanks for staying in the ring” and “you’re still looking at the world through long delegitimated neo-positivist lenses.” I took that as a clear “I know more than you about this (without being able to explain it in simple terms), and I’m just patronizing you.” If you say you weren’t, I can accept that.

  23. To restate: I think profit making is entirely morally neutral. Its moral status is defined by the ethics of how it was made. My presumption was that if something is cannibalistic (i.e. it takes more wealth out of the system than it generates in money even for its own money maker, let alone the government that taxes him) then the only means of selling the public on its legitimacy is deception. Empowering government with a mandate to assert its authority on behalf of the consumers, ensuring fair terms of competition, would help with this, and has helped with this in many cases both in the US and in other developed Western countries.

    Note: I distinguish “wealth” and “money” purposefully. Wealth refers to amount of social good, whether that good can be reflected directly in a money value or not. The opposite of money is not money, whereas the opposite of wealth is poverty.

    Re: Appearing to misunderstand libertarianism by claiming it’s about maximizing efficiency — My argument is that the under-examined moral foundations of libertarianism can have no other endpoint than the atomized, existential void of the Weberian iron cage in which the only generalized moral principles that can be grounded are those tied to the ideology of science and technology (efficiency in systemic productive power). It has too weak of a concept of the public good, too little regard for the dynamics of historical change, and too much faith in the market for it not to; faith that amounts to a fetishism that distorts and limits any forward looking critical social reasoning. I think that what underlies all of these issues is a basic problem with the epistemology that libertarians take for granted: the Popperian positivist one, which has long since been refuted. That, put as simply as possible, is my issue with the ideology.

    Again, sorry if par. 3 came off as gobbledygook (underslept and over-immersed in the literature—thesis—to be entirely comfortable translating the theoretic language of Frankfurt School critical theory for the lay reader). What it was was a jargony way of arguing for the position I just stated in the previous paragraph. I’d be happy to elaborate on the significance of the above paragraph’s claims, but not right now. Need to go back to sleep.

  24. Taking things one at a time: How do you propose to measure “wealth” in any industry in any meaningful way? In essence, how would you even be able to know whether a transaction between two parties was fair/just/equitable based on the social good (money, goods, service, prestige, manners, lessons, status, social capital and presumably much besides) being exchanged?

    I suspect you will grant it is impossible to do so in any objective sense, not knowing, as we can’t know, all the details of the exchange or feelings of the participants. And the benefit to society of that exchange, I should think, would be equally unknowable.

    In effect, under that scale of judgment, on what basis could you (or a government) decide any particular monetary or non-monetary transaction was “exploitative”?

    • You’re right. What I mean by calling libertarianism epistemologically problematic is that it denies the subjective mediation that it is in fact subject to. That’s not to deny that there’s a real world that is knowable, but what it means is that if you want to have any confidence in your subjective understanding of the world, you need to validate it intersubjectively through reasoned, critical argument.

      You can measure a lot of wealth in terms of dollars, but not everything. But that doesn’t mean that you should dismiss what you can’t as insignificant. Life is not experienced numerically, it’s experienced qualitatively. And dismissing qualitative realities of wealth and poverty because they aren’t uncontroversially quantifiable, while easy, is naive and inhuman, and will reduce people’s sense of genuine autonomy for making their experience of life seem less rational.

      There’s nothing to say that a statistic tells you anything about how things should be, because it strips away all information about why a person believes what they do and on what grounds those claims are convincing or not. In essence, polls are pre-discursive. Think MacNamara saying that on every quantitative measure, the US was winning the Vietnam War.

      Consequences of this position: it means that we need to be engaged communicatively with one another as much as possible so that we can get a sense of the truth of what is intangible but undeniably real. It means that we should present our arguments as clearly as possible but as much as possible be oriented to understanding the other, especially those things about his or her life experience that are not obviously generalizable and could therefore contain some particularly interesting insight, challenging them to spell these things out. And it gives some insight into why politics are so complicated (and why I thought Balko’s questions were stupid for being too abstract).

      Society would determine whether or not a given policy environment enabled exploitation on the basis of these ongoing conversations. And institute changes on the basis of the consensuses that can be arrived at in these ongoing exchanges.

      What I would say is that it seems tremendously obvious on both numerical and qualitative grounds that the American healthcare system is irrational, and that what’s supporting it is a great deal of manipulation, and misinformation that doesn’t hold up under fair critical scrutiny.

      • I have stayed largely out of this conversation, because every time there’s a new post, a thousand tangents bloom, and I just don’t know where to start in describing how much I disagree with you and Tom on nearly everything. But I worry that even if I were to respond to some of what you’re saying, your response back to me are just likely to just spawn more tangents rather than address my original point. I apologize if this comes off as terribly rude, but it’s true. Remember when we were discussing Levenson’s poor manners and lack of substance?

        But I’m not sure I can stay away from these last several comments.

        Society would determine whether or not a given policy environment enabled exploitation on the basis of these ongoing conversations. And institute changes on the basis of the consensuses that can be arrived at in these ongoing exchanges”

        I don’t see how a vaguely worded statement of “we’ll just all talk it out” is a satisfactory alternative to libertarianism. First off, you’re really not saying much more than we need to write our laws communally, which is what any democracy purports to do anyway.

        Secondly, when taken as vaguely as you have it written here, this position is extremely dangerous. You are essentially arguing that the majority opinion defines exploitation (consensus is a pipe-dream, you know some group will be disadvantaged in any dialogue involving government intervention into society) and that there are no limits to their power to do so – “society” in your argument is allowed to strip anything from the individual that it deems as “exploitative,” as long as there is some national public dialogue about it. You are undeservedly attributing such a grand degree of benevolence to society and government that history has repeatedly shown is wholly unwarranted, even when these organs have the best of intentions at heart.

        A classical liberal/libertarian would likely respond that the only serious way to limit exploitation of any form (economic, political, social) is to restrict the ability of society and government to control our lives. What you imply above would just result in the replacement of one alleged exploiter (health insurance companies) with another (the US government).

        Other brief responses to some of the seemingly dozens of other side-conversations in this post that are wholly unrelated to Levenson’s poor critique of McArdle

        Re: Hayek — Andrew’s mentioning of Hayek has nothing to do with Karl Popper or your beloved Habermas. We are discussing the moral and ethical benefits of a political ideology, not a social science methodology (I also take offense to you assuming that the debate between the two is “over,” but that’s another obfuscating tangent of yours I refuse to follow at this time). That is why Andrew stated that you are not arguing against Hayek meaningfully.

        What I would say is that it seems tremendously obvious on both numerical and qualitative grounds that the American healthcare system is irrational, and that what’s supporting it is a great deal of manipulation, and misinformation that doesn’t hold up under fair critical scrutiny

        No one here has ever said the current health care system is a good one, although Andrew has questioned your criteria for judging it so. What needs to be said is that the current problems that you and Andrew identify with the existing system, imperfect information (you) and imperfect competition (Andrew) are not resolved by increasing the already large role that the government plays. On your point for example, governments are infamous for their lack of transparency and provision of misinformation. Andrew even gave an example up above, when he noted how the Obama administration, which promised to usher in a new era of transparency, is refusing to disclose who it’s talking to from the health care industry (not to mention the half dozen other ways in which this administration has broken that promise).

        It astounds me (I am serious, that is not hyperbole) that you insult Andrew and I by suggesting that we are perniciously oversubscribed to an ideology at the cost of [our] own critical judgment , when you decline to critically examine how the track record of waste, fraud, deception, and general incompetence of the US government weakens the legitimacy of your own liberal dogma. Don’t get me started on the number of logs I could use to fan the pyre of liberalism’s corpse. The fact is, everyone who cares is deeply committed to some viewpoint on the proper role of government. If I’m going to be accused of being “oversubscribed,” at least it’s to one that promises to leave you the fuck alone. Be happy about that.

  25. But the question is in what direction to alter a health care system. If you have no viable method of measuring the social good, how does one even attempt to decide between 2, 3, or even the infinite options available to human experience?

    If you cannot weigh the social good, you cannot perform even the most rudimentary of cost-benefit analyses of proposed public programs. Consequently, wouldn’t one be better off to leave such decisions, to the greatest extent possible, to the persons most directly affected? They, after all, would at least be the most knowledgeable about their own circumstances.

    You say society would determine this, but how? Consensus, true consensus, would seem difficult to achieve even on a very local level – hell, even familial level. Is a broad consensus on an issue like health care reform even possible at a national level?

  26. I didn’t say you can’t weigh the social good, that’s a complete straw man. My question for you is this: what experience do you have that makes you think that a purely quantitative analysis of any controversial policy area will not leave a ton of questions unanswered, leaving a ton of space for debate?

    You should go with whatever feasible option opens up that most empowers health consumers (by increasing access, by increasing choice, etc…). By feasible I mean (1) in terms of the budget, and (2) in terms of not sabotaging the sector.

    In my opinion, the best way to do that is to create a strong public option along the lines of what Krugman has been calling for, as well as a marketplace for health insurance providers to compete to provide quality insurance directly to consumers (as opposed to through their employers) a la Wyden plan. There should also be better transportability.

    You’re right, I will never generate a “true” consensus (by which I assume you mean, have every last person convinced), but what’s important is that there’s the space created for strong and meaningful public deliberation, such that outright ridiculous canards can be held up against a fomented sense of public reason. Moving forward on a strong if not perfect consensus based on open public debate is infinitely better than moving forward on the basis of an irrationally hysterical public induced to froth by bad faith public actors, debating and jumping to conclusions based on irrelevant or trumped up horror stories.

    And yes certainly a broad public consensus on a policy like health care reform is possible on a national level, at least among people that carry any pretense to being reasonable (which excludes those who aren’t going to agree to anything Obama does anyway). It happened in Canada. Tommy Douglas, the premier behind the push for universal healthcare in Cnaada in mid-century was recently voted the greatest Canadian in history in a national CBC poll, beating out our founding fathers, beating out our war prime ministers, beating out Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, Terry Fox, Glenn Gould, Margaret Atwood, etc. etc. etc. … aside from universal available public health care, he really didn’t do anything else of note.

    Have you so little faith in America that you don’t think a strong majority can rally around what proves to be worthy causes and goals? I mean, you’re never gonna get the lunatics, but are they the one’s you want to have setting your health policy for you?

  27. For crying out loud, you assholes have been busy.

    If I hadn’t spent the past two days hanging siding in the blistering heat, I’d try to formulate a coherent response. But a response would require me actually reading through ALL this zaniness, instead of just the first paragraphs, and then thinking for a couple of hours, and then writing a 10,000 word screed trying to dissect what’s going on.

    I probably won’t get back into this whole thing until the weekend, because my (ex?) girlfriend is coming into town to…. something. It’s all very confusing. But I WILL get back into it. It’s just going to be a while, since I have some serious shit to figure out. Or, rather, some shit that may or may not be serious, but which I consider to be more pressing than this debate.

    Also, I need to eat dinner. And take a bath. And go get drunk.

    Just thought I’d let you know that I’m only AWOL because I’ve got a lot going on.


    • This is in response to Dane’s most recent. I haven’t read Tom’s comment yet (sorry if this ends up covering some of the same ground):

      Preface: I’m glad that you were so intrigued by the conversation about Levenson and McArdle that you think we should have focused exclusively on it. I think, however, that where the conversation has gone is much more interesting.

      First: It’s not about providing an alternative to libertarianism. Libertarianism—at least the inflexible form of it that’s been presented by you and Andrew in this debate—can and should be rejected on the basis of its own flaws.

      We’re therefore left with the task of providing some basis for public reason in a society that no longer unites around traditional practices and beliefs. I think opening up the space for a strong critically deliberative public sphere between the institutions of the state and the market is the only means of doing that. Here’s a link explaining this position in more detail. There is a public sphere that exists, but its independence from the market and state eroded continuously between the late 19th century, and, I’ve argued in my thesis (though we’ll see if Chad thinks it holds water) the last few years (during which a very small and weak politically critical public has been growing up through anonymous discourses on-line). To say that this is just “to write out laws communally is to completely miss the point. It’s about submitting to a process of reasoned debate before agreeing to write the law. A debate not oriented towards proving that one ideological position is right, but oriented towards establishing what, on the basis of shared reasons, can be agreed to be the best law on its own merits.

      By claiming that such a thing effectively would amount to a tyranny of the whiners is to take a profoundly elitist position, implying that you among the rarified few have the capacity to understand, deploy, and be convinced by solid reasoning under fair deliberative conditions oriented towards truth. If that’s what you think then that’s what you think, and God knows, the state of public discourse right now would seem to support such an argument. But that implies abandoning the project of creating a strong sense of public autonomy altogether, without which, I believe, private autonomy is effectively meaningless (unless of course one wants to abandon society altogether, in which case, why concern oneself with the policy debates at all… just do it.

      My sense is that the state of the discourse is so shabby right now because people have been deeply disempowered by the way the very system of public deliberation has come to be structured. They’ve lost track of the reasons why they even accept the positions they do and reject the positions they don’t, acting emotively and ideologically as a proxy for what they’re told is an irredeemably fucked up world (fucked up, of course, by their ideological opponents). The reason why I have hope is because the foot troops on every side think and act performatively like they have reason on their side, and so the door to good faith argument is always open. This is why I will get into debates on the message boards at, for example, Pajamas media. The commenters genuinely think that they’re right, and so they’ll engage with you on the terms of reason, and I’ve found that while you get called a lot of names, the argument actually does progress. Conversely I would never try to debate people like Limbaugh or Beck, both of whom are nihilists who benefit too much from being unreasonable to ever even pretend to be interested in an opposing viewpoint.

      But to answer your “secondly” more directly. My position is that society has the power to strip anything from the individual anyway, and that’s not something that’s ever going to go away. But that if you create a deliberative space where a sense of public reason can develop, participants imply by their very participation that they submit to the judgment deliberative reason. They thus performatively accept that the best case the individual could possibly make, she should be given what resources to take, and that position should be weighed fairly on its merits. As to whether or not there is historical reason to think that this is possible, of course there is! A straight line can be drawn from the strong deliberative publics that emerged with liberal capitalism in the late 17th century to democratization in England, and the American and French Revolutions. The ideas and philosophies that undergirded those public actions were generated discursively in the bourgeois public sphere.
      But again, if you wanted to believe that there’s no history of the public acting in accordance with reason, then there’s nothing I can do to stop you.

      I’m tired of responding to the charge that the government would be just as exploitive as the insurance companies have become. Everytime either you or Andrew brings up a substantial reason for believing that, I’ve responded to it on its own terms, and pretty much across the board shown why you guys were overstating your cases. Until you begin to address seriously and rebut my counterarguments on substance, of which there are at this point reams in the above, I’m not going to take seriously claims like “What you imply above would just result in the replacement of one alleged exploiter (health insurance companies) with another (the US government).”

      Re: your Re: Hayek. The very fact that you don’t think you can ground your ideology’s moral claims in social scientific reason stands as evidence for my case that the positivist epistemology that underlies libertarianism is uncritical. I’m once again sorry that I offended you, but I’ve read the dispute between Habermas, Adorno, and Popper, and it’s over. Positivism lost its credibility in the 60s as a comprehensive social theory and has had its tail between its legs ever since (hence all of the hedged language you see in good quantitative papers). And while you may want to condescend about “my beloved Habermas,” I’m pretty confident that I’ve read much more of of Hayek than you’ve read of Habermas, so… not to mince words on this point: fuck your condescension. But again, fine, put your fingers in your ears. I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself trying to justify the theoretical presuppositions of the ideology you use to advance strong and controversial claims about public policy (and to feel superior to stupid lefties who obviously haven’t thought of the oh so complex idea that it’s nice not to be told what to do).

      Just by the way… I also think the system would benefit greatly from increased competition in the private sector. I’ve been saying that pretty consistently this whole debate. Of course, competition would have to increase once you had a strong public option anyway, if that public option was any good at all. I also agreed with Andrew that it’s absolutely shitty that Obama isn’t disclosing who he’s meeting with from the health care industry.
      Your sweeping claim though that this proves that all governments are untransparent and misinformative runs completely counter, again, to the experience in health policy of every other developed government in the world, as well as the public health infrastructure in the US (Medicare/aid and the veterans health insurance program). None of these systems could be accused of being utopian, but who thinks America’s anywhere close enough to utopia that that’s the bar it should be setting for itself?

      I assume that by specifying that you’re not hyperbolically, but literally astounded that you mean to imply that you suspect me of hyperbole. Well it wasn’t. I’ve acknowledged and addressed all of the serious arguments either you or Andrew have presented regarding government waste / fraud / deception / and incompetence. Have either of you responded to my substantive responses to your worries? No.

      Anyway, I would recommend stepping back and asking yourself honestly why it is that you’ve been taking my claims so personally in this debate. I haven’t been handling you with kid gloves, true, but would that really be less offensive or less patronizing? I decided that you deserved the respect of my being as honest and direct with my objections to your positions as I can reasonably be. Yes the line about the pyre was a joke, but it was intended to be self-deprecating grandiosity. From Andrew’s initial response, he got that.
      Anyway, fan away at liberalism. In my opinion, it’s an only slightly less brittle ideology than libertarianism.

      And re: your closer: another example of an ignored opportunity for developing and exploring our argumentative differences on rational grounds. I’ve argued at least three or four times why libertarianism deceives itself if it thinks that the system it wants to put in place would end up actually end up leaving people alone. What I’ve argued it would do is isolate them, and then put them on a hamster wheel. If I’m right, which you’ve given me no reason to think not, that’s hardly “leaving them alone.”

  28. Again, tell me how you would weigh the social good you propose. What would be your theoretical reasons for favoring Krugman’s single payer plan over a strong public option? (to name two current liberal proposals – the only ones likely to get passed in any case). How would you weigh their differences? Because from where I’m standing it sounds an awful lot like “arbitrarily.”

    I ask this because you said “You should go with whatever feasible option opens up that most empowers health consumers (by increasing access, by increasing choice, etc…). By feasible I mean (1) in terms of the budget, and (2) in terms of not sabotaging the sector.

    What you are proposing to do is weigh 2 unmeasureables (consumer empowerment + ability to not sabotage the sector) and 1 somewhat measurable (anticipated budget) against each other and somehow get an answer. It’s just too easy to say “consumer empowerment under this plan defeats any budgetary objections.” (and this is exactly what Krugman is so fond of doing)

    Now, I don’t know why you say I’m making a quantitative argument, because I’m not. I have urged the “unsocializing” of the health care sector – removing the government tax benefit on health insurance. In effect, I want to make health insurance like auto insurance – if you’re likely to cost more, then you ought to pay more. Medicaid is already there to catch those too poor. (Even I don’t believe its going anywhere anytime soon) And you should be just as free to shop around and change companies on whim, if it should strike you, as you can on auto insurance. It has the added benefit, as well, of being a far less drastic and far less expensive plan than single payer.

    I can imagine the commercials now: “switching to Blue Cross could save you over $300 a month.” “Aetna’s diabetic insurance option – save $100 a month over the leading health insurance companies.” But honestly, good marketing is a sign of good competition – coke and pepsi, mcdonalds and burger king, walmart and target. It shows that they want to gain customers by offering good products at competitive prices.

    Yes, I realize it’s a total pipe dream. We sinned our sin in the 1940s (the wage freeze that led to this cockamamie system) and now we have to sit in it.

  29. Quickly, because it struck me, and I don’t mean to be accusatory, but is it just me or does

    “My position is that society has the power to strip anything from the individual anyway, and that’s not something that’s ever going to go away.”

    completely do away with the idea of individual rights?

  30. hmmm, clarification on that first comment. I don’t want you to weigh quantitatively, I agree that that is impossible, between the two, but to demonstrate how you could even begin to measure the two proposed qualitatively without resorting to arbitrary decision making.

  31. I’m tired. This might be cursory. It might not be. And I’m only responding to Andrew’s most recent post, because, frankly, we could argue for an eternity about all of this. And I want to move on eventually.

    (As a side note and a preface, if we are ever in the same city with one another, and that city contains a saloon, we should go to that saloon, stage an argument for the cowboys for an hour, and have them shoot the two they determine to be the losers.)

    Does anyone mind if I bring us back to square one?

    Andrew, I can’t speak for Ben, but I think my own reasons for supporting a single-payer system over a strong public options are simple (and I don’t think, for the record, that single-payer healthcare, aka “SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!!!,” has a chance in hell of being passed by congress): the former is an end, of sorts, while the latter is a means to that end. Ultimately, we want a system that provides everybody with affordable healthcare. We believe that the current system is a failure. Why? Well, because some 50 million people are uninsured. It’s also ideological: liberals are people who believe that healthcare–at least in this day and age–is not a “good” to be treated like other “goods.” It’s not the difference between staying at the Ramada and the Ritz. It ain’t whether I eat foie gras or nachos. It’s whether I live or die, or it’s whether I go into tremendously crippling (literally and figuratively) debt because of an unexpected illness. People of a liberal persuasion believe that everybody, regardless of wealth, should be entitled (“ENTITLEMENTS!!!!”) to, you know, not suffer needlessly due to socioeconomic status. We assert that socioeconomic status is not indicative of a person’s willingness to TRY, to PERSEVERE, to COMPETE in some Darwinian sense; but, rather, that it’s contingent on history, race, sex, etc. We contend that the playing field, no matter how much we wish otherwise, ain’t level. (In fact, I think arguments to the contrary are dishonest, though you could certainly try to persuade me.) And we argue that we should do our best, as an open and democratic society, to provide the most disadvantaged among us the sort of foothold that will at least allow them the chance to live the, uh, so-called American Dream.

    On that note, don’t give me any bullshit about Barack Obama or Sonia Sotomayor, please. These are exceptions that prove the rule.

    Continuing with my original point, the most salient market failure of the moment is in healthcare, and the reason is pretty clear: As Ben argued earlier (I think–I skimmed, admittedly) health insurance doesn’t work in the same ideal capitalistic way that the buying and selling of other goods does. When I go to the grocery store, I look for a number of different types of, say, tomato sauce. I compare prices, I consider my experiences with various products (having purchased most of them already, I have an idea of what sort of intrinsic “value” I attach to them, relative to their actual cost), and I make a decision. If I’m making pasta with sauce, and that’s it, I’ll go for Classico, because of a cost-benefit analysis that’s unique to me. If I’m adding meat to the sauce, I might go with something cheaper, since I’ll probably add backyard herbs to the mix. If I’m making sausage and polenta and sauce (recommended), I’ll go with the cheap-o shit, since the sausage is going to dominate the flavor anyway.

    That’s not the way people “think” about health insurance. They don’t get to experiment. Employer-based insurance is the de facto regime for the pre-Medicare set, and you don’t get much in the way of choice. You can pick a particular plan from your employer’s HMO if you’re lucky, but you’re always making a bet: namely, ‘I can pay what I can pay within this set of parameters, and not get what I hope not to get.’ For people of our age, it usually works out: we’re young, statistically unlikely to get a cancer diagnosis, etc. And it’s, of course, always good to have SOME insurance plan if you, you know, break your foot or something (which, I might add, I actually did, minus insurance, and which, I might additionally add, sucked).

    The point is that the idea of a “rational” consumer, if it has any traction in reality, applies to things like grocery shopping. It doesn’t apply to things like health insurance. Most people aren’t rational consumers of health insurance. They don’t want to be.

    And really, why should they nowadays? If pretty much every other civilized country in the world has some sort of universal coverage, is this not evidence that, No, the government does not ruin everything it touches? I mean, I’m as wary of wasteful bureaucracy as the next guy, but I wish we could all stop pretending that bureaucracy is confined to the public sector. Private health insurers waste a shit-ton of money on administrative costs. Overhead. A lot of it is wasted in the process of denying claims. It’s absurd. It’s a clear market failure. I’d cite statistics and evidence, but I’m sure that Ben already has, so I’ll move on.

    The thing to take away from all of this is simple: people’s lives are at stake. If it matters, they’re American lives. If we can find a way to fund a ridiculously bloated (and, currently, misdirected) defense budget, then we can find a way (hint: more progressive taxation) to fund a guarantee of decent healthcare in this country. For everyone. Not just the ones with the referees on their side.

    I.e. not just the 70% who are satisfied with the status quo.

    (I haven’t read most of your comments, so pardon me if the above points have been addressed by one or both of you. I think, though, that the debate has gotten a bit too esoteric, and that we need to remember what we;re talking about every once in a while.)

    So much for concision.



    • P.S. I am now signing off on this conversation until the weekend, or unless I get some free time (and I’m sorry for only skimming your continuation of the debate). I don’t expect any time to contribute, but you never know.

      Ergo, I’m not ignoring any replies to my hippy-idealist-utopian vision of the future. I’m just trying to win a woman back.

      Shit’s gotta take precedence.

  32. […] leave a comment » Going to get back to regular blogging probably later today or tomorrow. Needed to recover from thesis craziness, and spent what blogging time I’ve had fighting about libertarianism under this post. […]

  33. I’ll respond more substantively later tonight to the larger new developments, but I can’t leave the accusation that what I’m proposing would do away with individual rights unanswered. I can see how you would think that, but that’s effectively the difference between Rousseau’s general will (of which that’s a legitimate critique) and what I’m, following Habermas, proposing. Ultimately, a strong sense of public reason has to presuppose a strongly buttressed private. What could someone add to the deliberation if they couldn’t ground themselves in a strong sense of self, or felt that their participation would bring a coercive response? And arguments about the value of private protections are absolutely legitimate in themselves, and also publicly recognizeable. BUT, of course society always does have the power to strip people of their autonomy (the many are more powerful than the one), and for a few reasons, should uncontroversially have that power (to use against the criminal and the insane). What I’m saying is that if we don’t take the need for a strong sense of public reason seriously, we leave that power to the irrational whims of a public that doesn’t understand one another and/or to a technocratic reason that locks us in the Weberian iron cage.

  34. If this gets posted twice I apologize. I think the first time i posted it, it didn’t take.

    I’m tired of responding to the charge that the government would be just as exploitive as the insurance companies have become. Everytime either you or Andrew brings up a substantial reason for believing that, I’ve responded to it on its own terms, and pretty much across the board shown why you guys were overstating your cases. Until you begin to address seriously and rebut my counterarguments on substance, of which there are at this point reams in the above, I’m not going to take seriously claims like “What you imply above would just result in the replacement of one alleged exploiter (health insurance companies) with another (the US government).”

    Good god you are haughty sometimes. The reason why we keep bringing it up is because you keep dodging us. You don’t provide substantive replies to our arguments, you introduce random tangents about Karl Popper that have nothing to do with what we are talking about. Libertarianism is not reliant on a specific method of analysis anymore than any other political ideology is. Speaking of which…

    Positivism lost its credibility in the 60s as a comprehensive social theory and has had its tail between its legs ever since

    riiiiiight. So that’s why King, Keohane, and Verba is considered the holy grail of methodology texts for political science graduate students. Oh, and why the poli sci department at the University of Chicago is considered unique, because unlike most other schools, it actually offers a course in qualitative methods. And why the vast majority of serious , published political scientists use some form of quantitative statistical regression in their published work.

    Oh, and you realize that the William Riker movement STARTED, not ended , in the 60s, right? Sorry to break it to you bud, but quantitative analysis is the mainstream, and it is far from retreating. You are the outlier here.

    I really shouldn’t keep responding in blog format, as I have a foreign country to move to, an apartment of crap to move, and a thesis to write. Particularly since it is quite clear that the four of us having been talking past each other since we stopped discussing Levenson. Maybe we’ll talk today during our chess match.

    • Good god you are haughty sometimes.

      [*BLECH… it won’t let me embed an image… well it’s here: http://images.encyclopediadramatica.com/images/thumb/b/b7/Pot_Kettle_Black.jpg/180px-Pot_Kettle_Black.jpg%5D

      But that’s not to say that I’m not.

      I haven’t been dodging you. Any time you ask a substantive question I provide a substantive answer. When you ask an abstract question (even if you don’t realize it’s an abstract question), I give an abstract answer.

      Re: Popper… how is it not an engagement with an argument to engage the premises on which it relies?

      Dodging? That’s asinine. These are complex questions that I’ve tried to answer in as much good faith as I can muster. That the answers haven’t fit into your conceptual framework could say just as much about your conceptual framework as it does about my answer (which is my argument).

      Libertarianism is in fact reliant on an epistemological framework, but like any ideational system that becomes an ideology, it has forgotten that to its own critical detriment.

      Riker, King, Keohane and Verba may be positivists, but if you called them positivists they would deny it (since Strauss in America, and the debates with the Frankfurt school in Europe the term has been properly anathema). What they uncontroversially are is practitioners of positive quantitative analysis. I didn’t say that quantitative methods were disproven, descriptively they are pretty powerful (though always limited to abstract heuristics which limit the conclusions one can actually confidently draw). But the positivist idea that you can ground a meaningful comprehensive normative system in the framework of positivism’s pseudo-scientific epistemology has been disproven. Again, very few people would self-identify as normative positivists in the modern academy.

      What the brand of libertarianism that you’ve been arguing for strikes me as is the vestigial self-hating (hence why it can’t acknowledge its positivist presuppositions) remains of the strong positivist ideology of the early 20th century.

      But then that’s just my reading… how do you ground libertarianism? In the fact that you want to maximize your freedom? Again… hate to break it to you, but that’s what all major contemporary ideologies are about. Hell, even naziism was about freeing the German volk (understood as some weird metaphysical spirit).

  35. hey, it won’t post my latest comment, what gives?

  36. aha! there it goes.

  37. I grouped them under positivists because that seemed to be the way you were using the term, to describe quantitative analysis in general. And again, this notion of yours that positivism, or generic quantitative methodology, is uniquely linked to libertarianism is just completely absurd. We are having a discussion about ideologies, not methodologies.

    If we keep playing this game, why isn’t libertarianism: william riker or kkv? What proof do you have that its intrinsically linked to positivism? Do you not think someone can’t defend the ideas of personal freedom using interpretive methods? Perhaps more interestingly, what is liberalism or conservatism linked to then? what social methodology do republicans and democrats allegedly live or die by? Do you see how silly and forced this link of yours is?

    Do you score points in your debates by how many degrees of separation you can drive between the original topic of our conversation and wherever the hell it is we are now?

    • There are positivists who know their limits, and then there are libertarians. In fact we are talking about an ideology, which by my definition, is a comprehensive pre-discursive normative system used to criticize the world. My issue with all ideology is that it’s pre-discursive, and thus feeds and reinforces itself on its own logic to the point where it forgets its premises—instantiated by your inability to see that the only critical framework that libertarianism, in the form that you’ve been arguing for, can rest on, is that of positivism.

      Libertarianism is uniquely linked to positivism in that (and this is going to be terminologically complicated) it eschews having a positive critical framework (that would prescribe how thing should be), and relies on positivism to level its negative criticisms (how things shouldn’t be). It fails to see that the latter implies an inhuman positive framework that amounts to what Weber described as the iron cage.

      Liberalism—let’s say Rawlsian liberalism—is grounded in the idea of pluralism (which limits its perscriptive strength since it won’t pronounce on the good), but also in an idea of an overlapping consensus deduced from what they argue is a just original position that allows people to recognize their common normative interests and affect social change on the basis of them.

      Conservatism, like liberalism, is diverse in how it grounds itself, but to give you an example: Straussian conservatism grounds itself in a sketpticism in all moral theories that claim to be actionable, and so seeks to preclude social unrest on the basis of noble lies (religion, metaphysically essentialized “values,” etc.; or alternatively… they can believe the noble lies themselves).

      Most liberal Democrats subscribe to some variant of the former. Most conservatives Republicans subscribe to some variant of the latter. Many in both parties are purely cynical, and subscribe only to the ideology of personal enrichment (in terms of power or money, etc.)

      Any ideology that cannot ground itself though is irrational, and subject to corruption. That’s why, IMHO all ideologies should be oriented towards justifying themselves first, and then only once they’ve spent an adequate amound of time doing that, towards parading around with a superior attitude (e.g. Balko’s quiz; or, Levenson’s takedown of McArdle).

      And to your final point: conversations wander by where the interest lies. But go ahead… say more about Levenson and McArdle… I’m happy to hear your thoughts.

  38. […] are we up to now?: The conversation continues… see the comments under this post, and then under this one. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Facebook “the reality”Forgiveness, […]

  39. […] In responding to his counter challenge, I would note that intelligent does not equal positive. At it’s barest, the definition I settled on in my debate with Dane and Andrew was that libertarianism is a form of self-denying orthodox positivism. For an elaboration, see the debate under this post. […]

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