html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Oooooooh. You think they're <i>all</i> like the TSA.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Oooooooh. You think they're all like the TSA.

I was entirely delighted with Jan's comment:

As soon as you chose a side, I imagine myself on the other side and see that I wouldn’t want someone like you to have power over me.

It was, sincerely, the most helpful access to libertarian thought I’ve seen in the year that I’ve been honored with libertarian readers. In any governmentally enforced societal trade-off, you immediately seek out an injured party and identify emotionally with that person? Really? That would explain the aggrieved and strident tone. You can ALWAYS find someone being hurt by government (taxes, if nothing else) and you constantly feel their pain. No wonder you want less government.

I understand better now what fuels your libertarian outrage, but it is an awfully silly way to think. That last story, farmers vs. fishers was a cliffhanger. It could have gone either way, so did you not know whether farmers or fishers could make better use of the water until (you thought) I picked a side? It looked for a good long time like the farmers weren’t going to get the water, so were you fully appreciating the GRIEF and INJUSTICE and SUFFERING of the farmers when all of a sudden Cheney stepped in and reversed it, so you switched to the GRIEF and INJUSTICE and SUFFERING of the fishers? Moreover, why, when you feel the full pain and resentment of the fishers, do you not also feel the relief and satisfaction and joy of the farmers? The saga had a collective emotional weight, with winners and losers and their attendant emotions. Thinking government is bad because you only feel the pain of the losers is as silly as thinking government is good because you only feel the relief of the winners.

I loved the idea that you automatically identify with the side I don’t chose, and I wonder how far I can push that. If I tell you “Jan, as a power-mad bureaucrat, I am going to force that city upstream of you to clean up their wastewater before they discharge it into your drinking water source”, do you immediately identify with that poor upstream municipality, tragically forced to bear the costs of cleaning their sewage before dumping it into the river you drink from? Does none of your sympathy stay with your shit-drinking self? Are you only contrarian with me, or does your heart bleed for the governmentally oppressed all the time? When you drive through a green light, does your heart ache for those drivers forced by city transportation engineers to wait for you to pass? It is not right, what they suffer. When you wait at red lights yourself, it must all come together, your identification with the governmentally oppressed and your own circumstances, into the righteous suffering that living with a whole bunch of other people causes.

What do you get out of this sense of injustice, that you should hold on to it so? I’m guessing that the reward is the feeling of oppression and righteousness. As a feminist and an environmentalist, I can vouch for how satisfying those are. I’m going to guess it also feeds a need for some sort of Rugged Individual self-image. Lots of Americans have that. That is also some silly self-deception, since I suspect the readers of this blog are predominately a bunch of desk-jockeys, but I yearn for the Agrarian Utopia, so I can’t exactly cast stones.

How much education and expertise and disinterest on my part would justify my forcing you to move to Kansas based on my claim that it would be better for the world?

OK. We know that I would be extremely reluctant to move to Kansas, since it is on the far side of the Sierras and I don’t understand the world out there. So, it would take some substantial education and lots of expertise and authentic disinterest, plus a really compelling need. But, given those things, I would move to Kansas. Let’s think about your example.

I don’t know of any forced relocation programs (besides the Japanese detention centers) in the US*. Forced re-location is strong stuff; I don’t know what would provoke that. But perhaps the civil servants did the analysis and figured out that The Tsunami was coming and we all have to leave California. They somehow got regulations through the public process (it isn’t clear to me why this would be regulatory and not legislative and what grant of legislative authority this agency is implementing. But we’ll say that is all in order.). Then what? Well, I would read their analysis. I can do that, you know. It is a public document. They have to put all their reasons in order and give them to us; they don’t just issue mysterious edicts. This document is their best shot; this is where their education and expertise has a chance to be persuasive.

So. I’ve read their document, and to perpetuate your argument, it isn’t persuasive. I mean, maybe it is borderline plausible, but it isn’t good enough to persuade me that I have to move away from the only place on the planet worth living. What then? Well, then I have options. I can meet with the bureaucrats, but if they’ve already gotten to the point of issuing regs, they are not going to want to re-open that. They’ll think I should have spoken up four years ago when they started this. I would probably sue, on any justification I can find, just to force a judge to take a look at the document and balance that against the consequences of forced re-location. I would simultaneously start in on my legislator. For a result as stark as re-location, a legislator would take it up for me. A pretty white girl like me? So articulate? I could get heard for sure. Presumably The Tsunami is going to force my neighbors to move too. It shouldn’t be too hard to mobilize them. That would help with the legislative approach. My job is to persuade a judge and a legislator that the document doesn’t support the result. Here’s what it comes down to for me. If I can’t convince a judge (who is obligated to listen if I have standing and can find a cause) or a legislator (who has incentives to listen because of my all-powerful blog and mediagenic smile) that the bureaucrats have overstepped their reasoning, then… maybe I am wrong. Maybe I should just move, even if it sucks, because maybe that’ll save me from The Tsunami or maybe it is just worth it to everyone else for whatever mysterio reason (maybe a quarantine is the analogy here).

Look. That would SUCK. But if it had to happen, I would want it to happen in an open process of checks and balances. I would want the people who decided that I have to move to have to receive public opinion and be explicit about their reasons and write those down and give me access to them. I would want there to be a couple different ways to appeal that. I would want there to be laws, which are formal declarations of the public’s decisions. I wouldn’t want corrupt politicians stepping in to override those laws. Having all those things doesn’t guarantee that I’ll win. It doesn’t even guarantee that the best outcome will be reached. But you haven’t persuaded me that there is a better option out there.

*That is not true. The Bureau of Reclamation is forcing a hundred mobile home and trailer park residents out of their long-established parks on the edge of Lake Berryessa so the public can have access to the lake. But dude! The mobile home and trailer park owners’ lease ran out years ago. They’re just squatting now. They don’t get a private fiefdom on the shores of an attractive lake just because they are used to it. (Jan, how’re you feeling now?)


Anonymous D said...

"but I yearn for the Agrarian Utopia, so I can’t exactly cast stones." -M

heh, the family ranch is in northwestern wyoming, I could help you with that...

11:57 AM  
Blogger bBass said...

A lot of libertarianism is just a belief that your policy preferences shouldn't be enforced at the point of a gun. In your relocation hypo, sure, say on balance it makes sense to move. But if someone decides after all that, screw it, I'm going to stay anyway (for whatever reason), do you really want SWAT teams breaking down their door and forcing them to move? Don't they have the right to do something they believe strongly in and which doesn't affect anyone else?

Yes, I realize this is a different issue than water supplies / pollution etc. where there are significant externalities.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...

Forced relocation: Trail of tears, anyone? All of the relocations and expropriations of Native Americans.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...

Eventually when it comes to the crunch the state has a monopoly, more or less, on force, as the final guarantee that decisions, however arrived at, will be enforced.

If no collective decisions of any sort can be enforced, what do you have?

Libertarian thought that takes no account of that reality isn't worth much more than your local sermon on "blessed are the peacemakers" or "suffer the little children," etc.
Not that those admonitions are worthless, but they are just admonitions.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous quirkybook said...

Trail of Tears is the very first thing I think of when the topic of forced relocation projects in the U.S. comes up, even before the Japanese internment camps. Maybe because I am not from the West Coast, where (my impression is) there is a bigger Japanese-American population?

1:01 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Yes, of course. Trail of Tears. That was a shameful oversight on my part.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I was thinking of modern times, but that isn't an excuse.

1:11 PM  
Blogger dcw said...

It would take some substantial education and lots of expertise and authentic disinterest, plus a really compelling need. But, given those things, I would move to Kansas.

Legions of authentically disinterested experts blathering endlessly about compelling needs could't get me to move to Kansas. But an offer of extremely large monetary compensation could.

And therein lies the core of the difference.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Huh. What if they just convinced you The Tsunami was coming?

1:36 PM  
Blogger dcw said...

Moving in the face of a tsunami would be self-interest. I assume we are discussing some abstract societal balance-of-interests here. (E.g. "used as a park, your waterfront property could benefit masses of poor people much more than it benefits you.")

That was probably just a throw-away comment. And I probably just made myself look pedantic. Mais c'est la vie.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meggie, my apologies for being away for several days and thus being unable to reply to your many postings that replied to my posting of last Thursday. I will do my best to respond to your many points.

I must say, though, that because I read your posts in reverse chronological order—that is, scrolling down—your initial posting perhaps lacked for me the cringing fear that I might have received had I read them in chronological order, starting with your first posting about opening several metaphorical cans of WHUP ASS. You see, having read that post last, I knew that your cans of WHUP ASS must have been defective, as they seemed to contain only two ingredients: non sequitur and ad hominem.

Let us begin with ad hominem. Suppose that a man is a murderer. Can we say that he is a Bad Man? Yes, in fact, we can even define him as such syllogistically so as in: All murderers are Bad Men.

But then, does it follow that if he is accused of a theft he must be guilty? Hardly. And, what is most important, you cannot with any fairness cite his being a Bad Man as proof of his being a thief.

So it is with Dick Cheney. You assert that he has committed a litany of crimes. This makes him a Bad Man. And then you appear to use that as “proof” that he must have done something bad to the fishies, or, rather, to the sacred Process that you have previously asserted that bureaucrats love and hold dear. That is, you have made an ad hominem argument. Your “proof” that Dick Cheney should be condemned—without any other proof of wrong doing in this fishes matter—is that he is a Bad Man.

And, yet, even here, your ad hominem is unpersuasive as it does not do a particularly persuasive job of first establishing that Dick Cheny is a Bad Man. The problem is that your evidence for Badness is nothing more than a little litany of what a certain type of left-leaning American thinks to be true about the Bush Administration.

Take, for instance this shibboleth of the far left and its feelings about President Bush. As you put it, he “Lied to the American people to start a war against a country that didn’t attack us.” This is typically summarized more succinctly as “Bush Lied People Died.”

But where was the lie? To lie is to deceive intentionally. There is absolutely no evidence that Bush or his administration did so. Every intelligence agency in the world (including the French) had concluded that Iraq had an ongoing WMD program. In fact, that is why we managed to get the entire Security Council (including Syria) to vote unanimously for Resolution 1441. And if you look back at the political commentary at the time in this country you will not find many voices arguing that Iraq had no WMD program. Instead, what you will find are that those opposed to the war wanted to give Saddam more time to comply with UN weapons inspectors—despite his having thrown them out of the country at various times and having insisted that all interviewees be monitored during their conversations by Iraqi security forces (so that they would be too intimidated to tell us the truth).

And that brings us to the real liar. It was Saddam Husein. He lied. He didn’t have a WMD program. But he bluffed. He did all he could to pretend that he was covering one up when one didn’t exist. And, as it turned out, we had to invade to uncover that bluff.

And why did we invade? Because the bluff worked. Because Bush was not the liar but rather the lied to—as were all the intelligence agencies of all our allies who also thought that Iraq had an ongoing WMD program.

I could go on in this way about the rest of your litany, disproving them one at a time. But, my point is not about their falseness, but rather about how to make an ad hominem argument successfully: For an ad hominem to have its proper rhetorical effect—that is to illogically seduce the audience—it must be based on something that convinces the audience that the person being attacked is a Bad Man. In this case, that is only possible if you base your Bad Man assertion on something that the audience will agree is both true and bad. But, none of your Bad Man assertions are actually true. Which makes it very difficult for those who do not already believe in them to follow along with your ad hominem attack. Unless you first somehow convince me that Dick Cheney and George W. Bush are bad men, you will never be able to use their character to bring down aspersions on other actions that they may have undertaken.

You seem very smart, so I am hoping that you will choose in the future to preach to those who do not already share your assumptions about who the Bad Men are. If you want to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you, you will have to do better at convincing us that Dick and W. are Bad Men—and that can’t be done with silly, baseless arguments like Bush Lied People Died. In the future, if you are going to use an ad hominem argument because you have no better argument, please at least do a competent job of it.

Let us pass on, gentle reader, to the problem of non sequitur. And let us begin with Meggie’s conclusion that I am a Libertarian. I am not. Let me repeat that again: I am not a libertarian. In fact, I think that libertarians are fruitcakes because the miss the importance of culture and the broad assumptions that must be shared in order for a society to function well. For instance, people like you, Megan, think that Bush and W are Bad Men. They take that for granted. It is part of their culture. Consequently, it is easy for them to jump to lots of conclusions based on that assumption. Those of us who don’t share your culture are thus cut off from many things that you believe to be obvious.

More generally, you can’t have people with radically different cultural assumptions functioning well together in a society: too many frictions will result. Much of the Muslim world is working through this now. Those who take the Koran and the Hadiths seriously can never agree to Western ways because the two cultural systems are wholly opposed on many matters including—just to take a simple example—whether the testimony of a man and a woman are of equal value before a court. Under Sharia, the testimony of a woman is worth only half that of a man. This makes rape prosecutions totally impossible because if it is a he-said-she-said situation, then the woman automatically loses because the male rapists’ testimony (that he didn’t do it or that it wasn’t coerced) counts for twice as much as her testimony (that he did do it and that it was coerced.)

Now, I don’t think my cultural differences with you are so dramatic that we can’t function together in the USA, but I do think that they are so dramatic that if you and your ilk got their way, my life would be much worse off.

And that brings us to your query as to how the Environmental Protection Act could have passed with so few votes against it. The answer to that is that the representatives who should have been looking out for my interests caved. In particular Richard Nixon pandered to all things left when he was president. He was the man who on an executive order started racial hiring quotas for federal contracting. He was the man who pushed for the EPA (and persuaded his party not to oppose the radical version that got passed.) He was the president that took us off the gold standard. He was the president that imposed price controls. To sum up, he was a president so eager to get reelected that he was quite willing to give the other side nearly everything that it wanted—including getting out of Viet Nam.

The nice thing about democracy is that typically it results in a stalemate, with neither side getting much of what it wants. But with Nixon, the left got lots and lots of goodies—including the EPA—because the right stopped acting like the right. In fact, it amuses me that lefties go on and on about Nixon and the “Southern Strategy” as if it were a racist plot to pick up all the Southern voters who didn’t like the new, radical, post-60’s left. Why don’t they talk about Nixon’s “Leftist Strategy” of price controls, weak money, implementing draconian environmental laws, and imposing affirmative action? I know why. Because they like all of those policies. And people only bitch about what they don’t like.

Next, let’s deal with your arguments relating to the requirements that bureaucrats deal with competing interests and their having a duty to weigh them. This is related to my point (with which you disagreed) that decision making must be left in the hands of those closest to any problem. Your argument against my position is that those closest to any problem will only try to have things all their own way—in particular, the farmers who want water will not take into account the damage that might accrue to others if all the water were given to them (the farmers). And so you think that we must have bureaucrats—deus ex machina—to weigh competing interests.

But how, prey tell, will distant bureaucrats be able to correctly weigh costs and benefits? Do they have enough information to make that decision? Can they possibly ever have enough information to make that decision? The answer is no. It was no with Soviet central planners and it is no with kindly, well intentioned, rules-and-regulation-following bureaucrats in America.

Did a single one of those scientists have detailed information on any one of those farms? And by detailed, I mean the sort of detail a farmer gets by working the same land for 20 or 30 years. If the farmer’s supply of water goes down 5%, did any of those bureaucrats know how exactly how many of that farmer’s acres of land would become uneconomical to farm? Not at all. But the farmer knows.

And that is the problem here. Unless you price the water and have the limited supply competed over, it will NEVER be allocated efficiently. And a market is the ONLY KNOWN WAY for finding the correct price that balances competing interests.

You asked me what I think you guys do all day. I think you very nicely try to make the world a better place. But I also think that those of you whose jobs come down to setting a price should be doing something else. A market needs to be set up and the water allocated through a market. Those who want water for the fishes can buy it.
And those who want water for the farms can buy it. And you won’t need any “scientific” commissions to set the allocation of water—something that they will inevitably do incorrectly due to the fact that they can never gather enough information to find the efficient allocation.

Along these lines, I was quite frankly astounded that because I only talked about the farmers you came to the conclusion that I didn’t consider costs falling on other parties. And you apparently made the same accusation towards libertarians as a class—the idea that they only see one aggrieved party and then take their side. This was an astounding non sequitur. It also misses the fact that my point has nothing to do with one side or the other in the water dispute. It has to do with the institutions that you think are so sacred and filled with good people. They don’t work when it comes to pricing water. Only a market will work—a market that brings in all the little people whose self-interest makes you think bureaucrats are needed to weigh competing interests. And that was my point. Not to take sides with the farmers, but to criticize you and the current institutions and those who defend them.

Which brings me to your “point” that just because the bureaucrats are nice people trying to follow the system they should get any of our sympathy or support. As has been said since the 16th century, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Just because you and your ilk are good people doesn’t matter if you are part of a bad institutional structure that leads to bad outcomes. So your argument about the niceness of bureaucrats and of their commitment to process and rules is far less than convincing.

And that brings us to the NAZI thing. I did not compare you to a NAZI. In fact, in my original post I was careful to state that the people to whom I was comparing you were not NAZIs. (“They didn't do it because they were Nazis.”) They were just people who liked the idea that their ideas could be imposed by a strong government. I believe that it was totally incidental to them that the government in question that could impose their ideas was National Socialist. Indeed, I am sure that they would have been eager to help any such government—be it headed by a man named Hitler or a woman named Hillary.

Perhaps I should have talked about Plato’s Republic, which has been the inspiration of centuries of frustrated policy wonks and geeks, since Plato has his ideal society run by an educated priestly class. Our society is filled with frustrated wanna-be Platonic priests whose only hope is that they can somehow be given power to make the world better—by, or course, imposing their beliefs on everyone else.

So let me ask you my question again: Do you not think that the rest of us would be better off if you were running the world and imposing your beliefs on the rest of us? Do you not believe that, more generally, we should get rid of the political machinations of Bush and Cheny and instead have the world run by bureaucrats without any interference? Do you not want to just set things up under the system of laws you think best and then administer away and push paper and have meetings and impose regulations on people to your heart’s content? And if not, why not?

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Francis said...

not being a lawyer, Megan didn't address the 5th Amendment issue.

But to be fair, she did assume that the dispossession regulations were being written to implement federal law.

If, for example, the Greenland ice sheet suddenly collapsed, I could see the USgovt passing the Emergency Coastal Resident Relocation Act and leave it to the Bureau of Citizen Relocation (aka Bicker) to assign coastal citizens whose homes are underwater to brand new communities being built on western rangeland.

I could even see the US Sup Ct upholding the law and regulation by which each displaced person had to fill out a skill sheet and was assigned a destination for a few years on that basis.

and there's not much of a right to compensation from Uncle Sam if Mother Nature put it under water.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

re: Trail of Tears

Megan's original statement was "the US", treating US as a singular. When the Trail of Tears occurred, the formulation was more generally "these United States". Thanks to Shelby Foote it is commonly stated that the Civil War was the watershed moment when we singularised "United States" but it wasn't until the first years of the 20th century that Congress' Committee on Revision of the Laws ruled that "United States" was singular rather than plural.

Bush's speechwriters have attempted a similar tactic of making singular the word "Americas" during some of his speeches regarding Latin America; clearly there is something powerful in the notion of treating as a singular that which is plural.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

No dcw, I wanted that clarification. Because I was trying to think of things that would justify a re-location governmental effort. They don't come up often, and believe it or not, bureaucrats do not go looking for really contentious causes to throw themselves into.

But, we are back into societal trade-off category. Eminent domain type stuff. Francis reminded me of the 5th Amendment, saying they have to compensate you for a forced move. I remember that now. Long as we respect the Constitution, you can't be forced to move without fair market compensation. That isn't usually enough to make the person whole, but it goes on the balance sheet.

But yeah. Look. If the collective utility from a waterfront park is higher than my utility from being there, that would influence me. My interests aren't the only ones that matter.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with weighing society's interests though is in what you use to measure them. Someone could tell me that it is in society's interest, but why should I believe them.

The libertarian answer is usually in how much are you willing to pay. If you will pay me enough then your interest have more weight. If you won't pay me more then I think the land is worth to me then my interests have more weight.


2:14 PM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

The libertarian answer is usually in how much are you willing to pay. If you will pay me enough then your interest have more weight. If you won't pay me more then I think the land is worth to me then my interests have more weight.


Possibly, but completely at odds with the US Constitution which makes it abundantly plain that it is the Government which determines the meaning of "just compensation".

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

W.B. Reeves:

Well libertarians aren't exactly big proponents for the use of eminent domain, but I was more responding to the comments of Megan and dcw where they were talking about societal utility as a factor of selling something.


3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think if farmers' water rights were operated on a market system fish and the fisheries would be a lot better off. This would take some retroactive work though. Each farmer would need to reimburse the government (Bur. of Rec.) for his portion of the cost of the dams, canals, gates, and valves that have been built for the farmer to tend his land. He would also need to pay for the annual maintenace and operations of the system. Additionally, he would need to repay all grant funding he got for modernzing his irrigation system from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Finally, he would need to stop collecting subsidies from the government for growing crops that are in excess of the demand. Perhaps he should even have to repay all the subsidies that he's already received.
The fact of the matter is that the only way it is possible to farm in the Klamath basin is through the work of the government (agencies and subsidies).

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Francis said...

ok, these threads are now getting weird.

let's try a little experiment on analyzing how a Coasian allocation takes place.

The Indian Tribes start. They say that they have, by treaty dating 18XX with the US government, fishing rights on the Klamath. They assert that this means that they have the right to no less than [fill-in-the-blank] number of fish per year.

now, by asserting this right, they are asserting, by necessity, all of the following:

the right, in perpetuity, to certain minimum flows in the river;
the right to a certain temperature regime;
the right to prevent the discharge of a certain amount of pollution, sediment and heat into the river; and
the right to prevent excessive catch of fish in the ocean.

It's not just a matter of giving the tribe a certain number of cubic feet per second in the river and then allowing everyone else to buy the excess; it's much more complicated than that.

how much heat pollution is allowed? how much sediment from logging? how much in the way of farm runoff? where are the tipping points that will result in a violation of tribe's rights? who decides? who's liable if the fish counts are low?

And who's going to enforce this? Do all the users on the river give each other easements to go on the other's property and inspect for violations? what about the ocean catch, how are you going to enforce that?

(by the way, once various runs of the same species from different rivers get to the ocean, they're indistinguishable until they return.)

internet libertarians would have at least a shred of credibility if they would demonstrate that they have actually put some thought into the problems associated with privatizing particular commons.

3:41 PM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

Well libertarians aren't exactly big proponents for the use of eminent domain, but I was more responding to the comments of Megan and dcw where they were talking about societal utility as a factor of selling something.


Ah, but societal utility is at the heart of eminent domain. If the Government is empowered by the Constitution to take your property on the principle of social utility, it can hardly be argued that societal utility isn't a legitimate concern of government.

Unless, of course, you want to junk the constitution as it currently stands.

4:01 PM  
Blogger dcw said...

Francis: Here is an extremely simple privitization scheme. It's quite possibly not the "best" one on a number of counts, but I hope it will at least prove to you that such schemes are not impossible.

Create the Klamath River corporation. Distribute shares to the tribes in it proportional to their treaty fishing rights; no one else has shares. The corporation owns the river. No one can draw water from it, dump pollutants into it, or even put a boat on it unless the corporation allows it.

The corporation can enter into whatever contracts it can negotiate with farmers, fishermen, municipalities, nearby homeowners, recreational boaters and sport fishermen. It can sell or lease whatever rights the couter-parties will contract for. It is highly incentivized to balance those interests to maximize its profits, and to expend some effort to enforce its rights. It may choose to bear the risks of drought, climate change, and other disasters, or it could enter into contracts with insurers to protect itself. Any disputes that arise with counter-parties are matters of contract law, not public policy.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

W.B. Reeves:

I was commenting assuming that imminent domain was not a factor in what Megan and dcw were talking about. Obviously if it is then that changes the calculations.

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Megan.

This might get lost in the flood of posts and comments, but since you're addressing me, I should try to clarify:

I'm not seeking out an injured party. I'm just choosing for the sake of this discussion, and I generally don't care about these cases where you are choosing sides and you are getting emotional. I haven't said anything is that terrible; you have. Yet, to me, the things you complain about seem like obvious consequences of the kind of system you advocate.

I think you're not being fair in your relocation examples, which involve protecting yourself (tsunami) or not harming others (quarantine), both of which you can understand as valid reasons. What if the only justification is that Kansas needs your expertise? Can they enslave you because it would be beneficial to them?

We both don't like injustice. To me, one guy enslaving me or 50 guys enslaving me is injustice, and it doesn't change if that number becomes (population/2) + 1. It sounds to me like you're claiming that as long as that big group is well-organized and uses a consistent process (and they let you voice your objection!), it is acceptable for them to own you--after all, "that would SUCK", but "maybe [you're] wrong" to mind being a slave.

As a final clarification: I do not seek injured parties for my benefit, and whatever "aggrieved and strident tone" you're seeing does not come from empathy. I've experienced enough injustice (and I've had a great life, by the way) that I don't need to see other people suffering to know it's wrong. I seek competent individuals who don't let the injustice cripple their ambition and who will not surrender what they know is right despite being immersed in a society that ridicules and punishes them for their effort and achievement. I don't seek reasons to be outraged; I seek inspiration.

- Jan

10:46 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


First, my apologies for getting your name wrong. I think I had it right, then switched it to wrong. I'll switch it to right.

If this:

think you're not being fair in your relocation examples, which involve protecting yourself (tsunami) or not harming others (quarantine), both of which you can understand as valid reasons. What if the only justification is that Kansas needs your expertise? Can they enslave you because it would be beneficial to them?

is your concern, then I don't even know what to say. I think you're pretty OK under our system. There's an Amendment to take care of exactly that of that.

Look, when have these conversations, my default assumptions are the actual world we live in. I thought you were asking me about forced re-location, so I was trying to think about situations in which that could actually happen. Are you really asking me what I think of slavery if it serves the common good? I think it is horrible. But I wouldn't think to answer that question because it isn't a problem.

And then? You're don't like bureaucracies because you're afraid they're a slippery slope to slavery? I don't understand. Do you know anything about our systems? An agency can't be delegated powers that the Constitution prohibits. An agency only has the powers of the executive, and those are limited to those granted by the Constitution. I was even having trouble thinking of examples where an agency could act like that. The judiciary has a little more authority over the person, in equity and specific performance, but even in the judiciary, slavery is, you know, disfavored. The legislature can't do it either. I do not have to argue about whether bureaucratic inclinations could lead to slavery, because IT ISN'T AN ISSUE. Really, Jan, I want to reassure you on this. Slavery is off the table.

11:56 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Why am I in conversations where I have to reassure people that I am opposed to slavery? Internet people, why don't you assume the obvious?

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I wouldn't think to answer that question because it isn't a problem.

Just like whether they give the water to fishermen or farmers, or whether it's Cheney or someone else that decided, isn't a problem.

My default assumptions are the actual world we live in.

Here's just a piece of the world we live in:

Control of physical self:
- I can't kill myself.
- I can't sell my body (prostitution)
- I can't sell part of my body (e.g. a kidney)
- I cannot set a price for my labor (minimum wage)
- I cannot determine how much I work (overtime laws)

Separation from family:
- My foreign biological relatives cannot work with me
- I am limited in my choice of spouse(s)

Labor against my will:
- I could be drafted to go to war
- I must perform tedious chores for the beaurocracy (e.g. filing taxes)
- I must display propaganda on my property

Products of my labor:
- I only get to keep a fraction of what I create
- If my creation is good enough, it could be confiscated
- I am restricted in distributing my creations

- My property can be confiscated against my will
- I cannot use my wealth to support my ideals
- I am limited in my right to protect my property
- I cannot gamble
- my property can be raided without any accusation of wrongdoing
- I cannot limit access to my property for reasons I choose
- I cannot smoke on my property

General Freedom
- I cannot grow and consume certain plants
- I cannot consume certain animals
- I cannot discriminate against my coworkers (employees)

These are just a few things off the top of my head at 2 in the morning. If you're interested in reassuring me, can you explain the fundamental difference between forcing me to work on a dam and forcing me to pay for someone to work on the dam?

- Jan

p.s. No problem about the name. I thought you might be using it as plural on purpose.

1:58 AM  
Anonymous justus said...

dcw - Your "simple" solution leaves some questions in my mind.

How do the rights of the Klamath River Corp. interact with the rights of Lake Euwana Inc. and's stock holders? Who decides the bylaws, covenants, and voting rules for Klamath River Corp? Do we need to hold a "constitutional convention" so the stock holders can come up with those? After all, I'm sure the tribes with fewer shares won't be happy with pure majority rules.

If no one can dump pollutants in the Klamath River, who decides what constitutes a "pollutant"? Does the Klamath River Corporation have discretion to define "pollutant"? I assume this counts pollutants from precipitation, of course. So anyone who wants to build a factory or own a car or, really, anything related to industrialization who is, say, 1000 miles up-wind of the Klamath River needs to seek the permission of the Klamath River Corp before they are allowed to contribute to air pollution that will (possibly) precipitate into the Klamath River? Who does the Klamath River Corporation sue if courts decide global warming is man-made and global warming affects fish runs?

7:52 AM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

I was commenting assuming that imminent domain was not a factor in what Megan and dcw were talking about. Obviously if it is then that changes the calculations.

I understand but my point was a bit broader. To whit, societal utility isn't some sort of alien concept imposed on US governance. It is fundamental to the constitutional framework of the government. You seemed to be suggesting that it should be jettisoned in favor of a different approach you describe as libertarian. I thought it worthwhile to recognize that, in the context of US law and history, this would constitute a radical departure, whereas Megan's citing of societal utility is well within the mainstream of our national experience.

If you wish to argue against societal utility you can but you will be arguing for a fundamental break with the past. One incompatible with the Constitution as it now stands.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

w.b. reeves:

I am not arguing against societal utility. What I think is problematic is that it is hard to measure. How do we measure whether society can get greater utility out of my property then I can. An easy way is that society (in this case the govt.) offers to pay me what it thinks the property is worth to society. If I sell then their utility is higher. If not mine is.

Also the constitution only says

"nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation".

It doesn't define what just compensation is. In my opinion just compensation is what I am willing to sell for. That isn't the current legal working definition but that can change and wouldn't be unconstitutional.


8:34 AM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

It doesn't define what just compensation is. In my opinion just compensation is what I am willing to sell for. That isn't the current legal working definition but that can change and wouldn't be unconstitutional.

As usual, the devil is in the details. The power of the clause lies in the fact that it doesn't provide a definition of "just compensation". The government is empowered to make that determination without any limits whatever beyond its "sense" of what is "just." Your or my opinion of what is just is irrelevant. This can't be changed without altering the constitution as it stands and throwing out over 200 years of legal and governmental precedent.

Whether this would be a good thing or a bad thing isn't an argument I'm making. I just don't think you should kid yourself about the nature of the system you are living in or the radical change that you advocate. For example:

An easy way is that society (in this case the govt.) offers to pay me what it thinks the property is worth to society. If I sell then their utility is higher. If not mine is.

Of course, the reality is that under our system you have no right to refuse to sell. As a legal, political and practical matter, your utility is never higher than that of society. That's because the state generally has been the arbiter of property, a principle fully embraced by the framers when they wrote the clause in question leaving the determination of "just compensation" to the mercy of the state.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

w.b. Reeves: you are rockin' these comments. Thank you for tying this back to the system we actually live in.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

W.B. Reeves:

There is no need to alter the constitution to change how the government defines just compensation all you have to do is create a law that defines it. That is eminently doable in todays system without throwing away anything. I don't see this happening, but there were quite a few laws passed recently redefining what a public use was on the state level after the Kelo decision. So it isn't like it would be a huge change from things that are already done.


11:00 AM  
Anonymous Francis said...

there is abundant case law, both state and federal, that states that the level of compensation which is just in a condemnation case is market price, assuming a willing seller and willing buyer.

Market price as the measure of just compensation prevents corrupt officials from giving windfalls to cronies and shortchanging the politically weak.

2:49 PM  
Blogger jens said...

On automatically choosing the other side of an argument:

I don't think that has anything to do with libertarianism per se. I think that has to do with people that like to work with ideas.

If you say:

"I think x makes a lot of sense..."

and i respond

"Right on, sister, I HEAR you!"

that is pretty much the end of our discussion, and I've contributed nothing except perhaps to be a bit supportive.

But if I, even though I to a certain extent AGREE with "x", pick the other side and bring up the difficulties I see, the way you might address these difficulties could be enlightening.

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jens: Yes!

- Jan

10:27 PM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

There is no need to alter the constitution to change how the government defines just compensation all you have to do is create a law that defines it.

Not really, unless you make that a Constitutional amendment, such a law would be subject to the political whims of the legislature. You're not taking cognizance of the power relation involved here. Even under your scenario the state would retain the power to dictate what it would pay for seized land. Whether that payment is set judicially, legislatively or administratively, the balance of power remains in government hands. Neither does this address the fact that the property holder has no right to refuse sale, which effectively liquidates the mechanism of the market. Indeed, even a Constitutional amendment wouldn't answer the difficulty since amendments can and have been repealed.

Likewise, the local laws passed in the wake of Kelo are impotent on these points since Federal Law supercedes local ordinances. While they may curb local abuses for a time, such laws are as ephemeral as those suggested for the Federal level since they are predicated on the power of the government to regulate property in the first place. Can you cite a single such law that repudiates the Government's power to force the sale of private land? Do you really believe that any government would voluntarily relinquish such power?

there is abundant case law, both state and federal, that states that the level of compensation which is just in a condemnation case is market price, assuming a willing seller and willing buyer.

Exactly who will determine what the fair market value is? The executive? The legislature? The courts? It certainly won't be the owner, since the owner can't refuse to sell. The case law you allude to really represents nothing more than the judicial branch's pledge to seek equity in such cases. The power to force sale and determine payment remains squarely in the hands of governmental entities, where it has resided since the formation of the republic. The fair compensation clause doesn't guarantee the right of property, it guarantees the right of the government to take property.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Hey Jan,

I actually got that part, that you temporarily try on the other side. I don't know that, but I have thought habits that I apply to extend my understanding of situations. Like I said, I was delighted by that practice.

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

W.B. Reeves

Aren't you just arguing that might makes right then? Since even if there was a law against it the government could just threaten to shoot you if you don't give them the land. I mean who are you going to complain to?


11:41 AM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

Aren't you just arguing that might makes right then? Since even if there was a law against it the government could just threaten to shoot you if you don't give them the land. I mean who are you going to complain to?


As I said earlier, the rightness or wrongness of the reality is not something I'm addressing here.

What I am addressing is the reality of the system. A reality which does not comport with the values or theories of Right Libertarianism. A fact which which few, if any, Right Libertarians ever address.

You do pose an interesting question. If the state is the arbiter of property and as such is empowered to take property, what distinguishes our current system from those wherein the state "shoots you and takes your property"?

The answer to this question is a layered one. Foremost, it is a matter of circumstance and necessity. Under current circumstances, there is no compelling necessity to shoot you in order to take your property, unless you make it necessary by violent resistance.

This has not always been the case. During the Civil War the US government found it expedient to seize millions of dollars of contraband "property" and enforced its policy at gunpoint. Likewise the forced dispossession of the Cherokee and other native peoples is instructive.

Lacking such perceived necessity, our system does recognize a degree of obligation toward the property owner in the form of due process and limited compensation. As nominal as such concessions may be, and where the power and authority of government to make take such action are unchallenged they can only be nominal, they stand in stark contrast to systems that make no such concessions.

From what I have seen here, I believe that this is a key point that Megan has been emphasizing. It is the character of the process employed that determines the character of the outcome, not appeals to abstract theoretical absolutes.

It does, after all, make a practical difference to me whether the government compensates me financially, however ungenerously, or with a bullet.

The issue of whether "might makes right" is a moral and ethical one and not, strictly speaking, a question of governance. Government is the organization of power, that is, of might. Hence, it's monopoly of the use of force.

When confronting Governmental power, as a practical matter the first question is not what is right but what is the law. This because government is not a moral creature, it is an amoral instrument.

The degree to which a government may be infused with moral legitimacy is consonant to the degree that it is accountable to the moral concerns of the governed. Again, a question of process.

To reiterate, my concern here has been that you and others not kid yourselves about the nature of the system you live under. If you wish to argue for changing that system, that is your right, both as a citizen and as a human being.

However, the chances of a positive outcome are greatly reduced if you refuse to recognize the radical character of such change.

12:48 PM  
Anonymous dilletante said...

it's been a little weird to see this discussion invoke forced relocation and libertarians without (at first) much reference to eminent domain or kelo vs. new london, which as far as i can tell are serious libertarian bugaboos. so i'm relieved to see those eventually trickle in.

unfortunately, as i understand it, the stereotypical eminent domain case (and especially the stereotypical case libertarians would gripe about) isn't a dispassionate bureaucratic regulatory decision so much as a political one. much like the two famous examples cited early on here, right? the japanese internments and the trail of tears.

it's very game of you, megan, to hypothetically take heart in the idea of participating in the public comment period or at least getting to read the reports produced by the government agency choosing to relocate you. and then to sue, petition your congressfolk, etc. but the actual examples coming up here all seem to involve politicians deciding that they dislike the japanese or the indians or that your land would pay them more money in taxes if it were owned by a big developer; and none of the very famous supreme court cases here seem to have helped the plaintiffs very much (even when they won!)

so i'm betting libertarians will think this is a great example. :) (but maybe i'm just rehashing that it's hard to come up with a sufficiently direct analogous case.)

w.b. reeves, i'm also having trouble reading your comments as anything other than "might makes right." i think what confuses me is your insistence that no possible law or constitutional amendment could materially alter the essential truth that the government gets to take your stuff whenever it wants. how do you square this with your admission that the fiddly details of the process do actually matter to your personal outcome? i think that referring to "the government" as a monolithic entity is causing or allowing you to hide a lot of important details under misleadingly overbroad rubrics like "its 'sense' of what is 'just.'"

2:13 PM  
Blogger W.B. Reeves said...

w.b. reeves, i'm also having trouble reading your comments as anything other than "might makes right."

Dillettante, I have to suggest that your reading is suffering from the projection of subjective bias. Can you point to anywhere that I issued an opinion about the moral rightness of anything I described? Have I not, on the contrary, specifically refrained from such judgements?

how do you square this with your admission that the fiddly details of the process do actually matter to your personal outcome?

There is no real contradiction here. Perhaps a few illustrations will serve to clarify. All governments claim the power to make war. Does it follow that the process used for determining on war is irrelevant? Do the particulars of the process negate the government's power to make war?
All governments claim the power to pass laws with penalties attached. Does it follow that the process for making law is irrelevant? Do the particulars negate the Government's lawmaking power?

The answer to all these questions is no. Just as it would be in the instance of the government's role as arbiter of property.

What I have attempted here, is to point out that the US government is not exceptional in this regard. It too is an amoral instrument whose character is dependent upon the character of the processes by which it operates.

The fact that the Constitution enshrines the power of the Government to take property, albeit with a nod towards equity, stamps it as a collectivist document from a Right Libertarian perspective. Understandibly so, since all governments, aside from personal despotisms, are collective enterprises claiming such powers.

i think that referring to "the government" as a monolithic entity is causing or allowing you to hide a lot of important details under misleadingly overbroad rubrics like "its 'sense' of what is 'just.'"

Wouldn't the proper way to address this thought be to ask some pertinent questions rather than indulging in speculative fancies about my intent?

3:34 PM  
Anonymous dilletante said...

w.b. reeves: you misunderstand me. i wasn't speculating about your intent at all; i was speculating about what in the things you've actually said leads me to read you as advocating "might makes right" despite your explicit disclaimers.

as near as i can tell it's your 11:03 reply to cbakker, in which you expound at length about how no level of legal stricture can keep "the government" from arbitrarily taking your stuff because "the government" can always change the laws. this is true, but it requires a level of analysis (treating "the government" as a black box) that obscures all of the process it might have to go through to arrive at such an end and any influence you personally might have on the process (as a citizen, temporary media figure, politically well-connected insider perhaps, or whatever). and as you point out in your following post, the details of that process do matter. so choosing a level of analysis that deliberately hides those details in order to be able to proclaim that really the government can always just arbitrarily take your stuff makes it appear as if you are eager to reach that result and thus are saying in essence that might makes right.

i get that that's not what you meant to say. it sounds like you meant to say something more like "in practice the government has a lot of might."

or, perhaps, that the government's might is not morally constrained. i don't entirely agree with you there. certainly, cbakker's personal notions of justice do not directly structurally constrain the government's actions. but the government is comprised of people and implements laws written by people who learned their notions of justice in the same society where cbakker did. if those people by and large believe that the government's actions should be just, then there will be a relationship between cbakker's notions of justice and the government's actions.

or, in cases where there isn't, it's fair for cbakker to say-- or for megan to say, as i take it she is here-- that something is wrong.

you're certainly free to define "government" as a pure power structure divorced from societal notions about its appropriate role and behavior-- as an amoral instrument. but it's not clear to me that glossing over process and context yields a better description of "reality" than taking them into account. it describes a facet of reality; but if you wish to be clear, be clear about what it misses.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dilettante, I'm not certain at this point what your objection is. I hardly think that pointing out what the Constitution actually provides for on the question of property rights and what it would take to alter that constitutes ignoring the process. Nor do I think that there is anything untoward in recognizing that the particular form of Government we live under sets nothing in stone.

It's also rather odd that you would accuse me of glossing over the question of process when I was the one who raised it in the first place. Allow me to restate my point. Governments do not draw their character from they say about themselves or what others say about them but from the character of the processes by which they operate. Let me add that the processes themselves draw their character from those who participate in them.

Since you haven't challenged the factual basis of anything I've said, I'm at loss as to what it is you find so problematic. Unless it is that you are personally uncomfortable with a discussion of government that isn't hedged with moral judgements. Even this is farther than I wish to go, since it amounts to nothing more than a guess.

BTW, I don't see how you can reconcile the accusation that I was "choosing a level of analysis that deliberately hides those details" with the claim "i wasn't speculating about your intent at all". I could hardly "choose", much less act "deliberately", without intent.

I suggest you think over what it is about my remarks that disturbs you and see if you can boil it down to questions. Then we might actually have a dialogue.

12:28 AM  

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