Thursday, June 05, 2008

Party Political Broadcast

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:

As regular, or even intermittent, (since postings to Brain Stab are now very intermittent) readers of Brain Stab are aware, your correspondent is a libertarian as is evidenced here for example. I hold my political opinions with love, and the second most painful thing to me (behind seeing them inexpertly defended) is seeing them inexpertly attacked. Such a travesty occurred in last week's edition of "Craccum". Sadly, Craccum's website has not been updated in four and a half months(!) and so I reprint below the opinions of "Doug and Matt H" with my comments following that:

~~ Take a vacation from reality in fabulous libertopia! ~~

There's an election on the horizon. You may have heard. And there's
only one political party in New Zealand committed to liberty,
freedom, and individual rights. Libertarianz - the New Zealand party
of Principle. Too bad they're batshit insane.

Initially, you may think that the ACT party and Libertarianz are more
or less identical - but there are a few key differences. To begin
with, ACT got more than 946 votes in the last election. Secondly, ACT
is (according to Libertarianz) not "rational" enough. Yes that's
right - there is a political party with more regressive and harmful
policies than ACT! ACT is to Libertarianz as to what Pepsi Max is to
liquid cancer - a more consumable form of evil.

The cornerstone of the entire Libertarianz philosophy is that people
will always act in their own rational self interest, and that THE
MARKET will take care of any shortfalls in the supply or demand of,
well, anything. Not just goods, such as delicious ham or pure strain
gold bullion, but more abstract products and services, like
health care and education. THE MARKET will decide what schools teach,
and who owns them. If you think poor AUTU has a hard time claiming
legitimacy, spare a thought for the McAuckland Boys Grammar School of
Culinary Enflavourment.

The problem (or rather, of a multitude of problems) with
Libertarianzism is that there is no such thing as a rational actor.
The concept comes from economics, and states people will act in their
own rational self interest when presented with multiple choices. This
theory works fine until stage two economics (or until any other
paper), when you learn that everything from stage one only works in a
fantasy land where people have equal and complete information about
everything. A Libertopia perhaps, located underwater, away from
meddlesome Statists and other irrational persons. While most people
can accept this, and don't build their entire world view around
delusion of being some type of rational thinking Ubermensch Captain
of Industry, Libertarianz chose to ignore it. For example, this is an
actual quote from the Libertarianz website:

"All the evidence shows, for example, that health care in a free,
rational society will be vastly superior to the current die-while-you-
wait state health system. But, doctors will not be force to treat
those whom they do not wish to treat. The context of a more rational
ethos should be kept in mind at all times."

The Liberianz fetishisation of a "rational society" ignores that such
healthcare policies already exist, and perform badly, in countries
like the USA (where people don't die waiting in a queue to go to
hospital, for the simple reason that they could never afford
hospitalization in the first place, and instead die in the comfort of
their own homes) and Somalia (where a trip to hospital costs more
than all the goats in your village combined).

The reason Libertarianz cling to the "rational actor" concept with
such passionate ferocity is because it's only part of the larger
philosophy they subscribe to- Objectivism. Objectivism is the all-
encompassing big brother of Libertarianism, and includes strictures
on everything from ethics to aesthetics. Like Libertarianism,
Objectivism was founded by Ayn Rand, a charming lady who looks a bit
lie a more mannish Helen Clark. One is a pseudo-socialist and the
other is a bitter former socialist with clear fantasies of being
dominated and oppressed by men.

In New Zealand the most vocal Objectivist movement is the Sense of
Life Objectivists, who have a delightful website called SOLO Passion.
Although it sounds like a support group for chronic masturbation,
it's actually home to pseudo-intellectual wankery of a much less
honest sort. We could have made a more obvious joke about
masturbation, solo passion, and individualism, but that would have
been way too easy. In any case, it is not surprising that Lidnsay
Perigo (Premier and First Chairman of SOLO Passion) founded the
Libertarianz party, the party for the individual. The current "Big
Man" is Bernard Darnton, easily identifiable due to his decidedly
irrational "eraserhead" hairsyle.

Here's a free suggestion: if you're feeling bad about yourself one
day, spend some time on SOLO Passion. It has articles on how Comrade
Lindsay's favourite music is objectively the best music, why
worthless fiat money should be replaced by the purestrain gold
standard, and features objectively terrible web design and
contributors. Given time, we're sure there'll be articles on
reptilian shapeshifters in the treasury, the many benefits of
drinking colloidal silver, the international lords of finance (J-E-W-
S), and the fleet footedness of The Negroid. This would certainly be
consistent with the idiocy found in the objectivist and libertarian
movements of other countries.

But to return to one of the more entertaining facets of the
Libertarianz - their policies. Even at a glance, it is clear that the
only criteria used to develop these were "will it cost me MY MONEY?"
and "can THE MARKET do this?" Not surprising then that THE MARKET is
their solution to everything, including (most disastrously)
education. All education will be private, and those parents that
can't afford to send their children to school will receive help
from "private charities." Ah, just as they did in the years 0AD-
1900AD. Of course. Then again, won't parents have more money, what
with the almost 0% tax rate? Perhaps. Or perhaps inflation will
simply occur at an accelerated rate, since the public will spend
more. In a fully privatised education system, parents will have the
right to determine what their children learn at school, from Flat
Earth geography to Biblical literalism. Apparently in Libertopia, the
freedom for parents to choose whichever irrational, unscientific and
flatout wrong ideas their children are taught will lead to a better-
educated society, free of the nanny-statism that would have been
subjected to.

Aside from education, Libertarianz apply the glacial might of their
frigid, clockwork minds to employment law. Their suggestion is, well,
that there should be no employment law. Or at least they don't
actually mention anything about it in their policy. They promise
to "get the goverment's agent out of your business, and slash the
regulation that allow them access". Goodbye minimum wage, health and
safety requirements, the 40-hour week, the range of anti-
discrimination requirements, the right to union membership, and
everythign that stops from becoming and indentured slave. Of course,
Libertarianz would agree that this would never happen, and that
employees would be free to find gainful employment elsewhere. This
line of thought is fantastic, in the sense that it is fantasy.

Libertarianism seek to dismantle the structures which exists to
prevent corporate abuse, monopolisation, and all the bad things that
go along with capitalism in our current economic environment, under
the bizarre assumption that this will somehow result in less of the
above. Historically, the combination of THE MARKET and total
deregulation has produced arguably superior economic growth than in a
more regulated market. However, this comes at great personal and
environmental costs, as citizens are packed into ghettoes and forge
into chain gangs. The locked doors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
meant that in 1911, 148 garment manufacturers (mostly women) were
agonizingly burn to death when the factory accidentally caught fire.
The Captains of Industry stood callously back, counting their money
and laughing. But never ind the fats, full steam ahead to Libertopia!
In the country dreamt of by Libertaianz, the following situation,
described by Noam Chomsky, noted linguist, activist and filthy
statis, would be a common occurrence:
"Suppose someone facing starvation accepts a contract with General
Electric that requires him to work 12 hours a day locked into a
factory with no health-safety regulations, no security, no benefits,
etc. And the person accepts it because the alternative is that
children will starve."

It takes a certain type of person to agree with and identify
themselves as libertarian. Either they're aware of the consequences
of Libertarian policy and don't care because they stand to benefit
from the millions of deaths resulting from "Market Correction",
they've never had any real world experience with money, or they have
aspergers syndrome and are incapable of understanding this emotion we
hu-mans call "compassion". The entire system of ethics and morality
espoused by Libertarianz goes no further than "FUCK YOU, I GOT MINE,"
while bandying around vaguely placating concepts of "private
charity." Even then, the motivation for donation is not altruistic in
any sense, or grounded in the idea that people dying from starvation
is intrinsically a "bad' thing; instead, contribution to charity is a
means of rationally increasing your own self worth. Even when
attempting to do something good, they manage to do it in the most
evil and selfish (read: rational) fashion possible.

Unfortunately, none of Libertarianz grand policy concepts will ever
face the harsh light of reality, since donating money to a political
party which fials to gain over 1000 votes is inherently irrational.
We suggest you visit their website ( to gain a
fuller understanding of their particular brand of insanity. We should
note though - in anticipation of angry libertarians assaulting the
Craccum offices with outraged letters written in crayon - rejecting
Libertarianism, and the views of Libertarianz, odes not mean that
you're a raging leftie, a socialist loonie, or a communist. Rejection
of objectivism is not an endorsement of Nanny-statism.

Should you wish to experience firsthand the results of
Libertarianism, you can either move to Somalia and seek your
fortune/death, or play the wonderful game Bioshock, which involves
running around a leaking, unsafe underwater city while mutated
libertarians and objectivists try to steal your blood. In the even
you still think voting libertarianz is a good idea in the face of
overwhelming evidence, consider what they suggest renaming the
country to.

"Libertarianz, while respectful of many aspects of our Western
heritage, will sever constitutional links with the British Crown and
establish a new Republic of New Freeland.."

New Freeland. It's enough to make you vote ACT.

Doug & Matt H

So there you have it Gentle Reader, if they are to believed then what kind of monster must I and my libertarian brothers be? But they are not to be believed as in the best traditions of exuberant student journalism there is much heat but precious little light, let us parse and Fisk.

In paragraph three we are greeted with the following - The cornerstone of the entire Libertarianz philosophy is that people will always act in their own rational self interest. Actually no, far from it. Libertarians do not believe that people always act "in their own rational self interest" at all, as my fellow traveller Peter Cresswell will attest. Libertarians do not offer a "Libertopia", with all the Utopian connotations, all we offer is a system better able to handle things going awry.

If it were true that people always acted rationally then this would undercut some of the pragmatic (though not moral) foundations if libertarianism. If people always acted rationally then you could have an army of economists beavering away, doing their equations on what people would rationally want and being able to centrally plan the economy through computer models. In practice, since people do not always act rationally, they cannot. What is more, our non-rational actors are strings to libertarism's bow.

Why? For the simple common-sense reason that it is not a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket. Let's look at something important, like food, that is left for the market to provide, and compare it to anything of similar import (health or energy) run by the government. If New World runs out something that I want then the Foodtown up the road will most probably have it. The health and energy sectors are taken aback each year by predictable events such as an influx of patients due to winter flu and low lake levels due to a dry summer respectively. Think what would happen if food were run by the state. What supermarket everyone went to would be decided by majority vote once every three years, and that supermarket would take your food budget straight out of your wages irrespective of how much or even if you went to the supermarket that week. Finally, whereas each private supermarket in the country has latitude in what it buys, our government owned supermarkets all follow the same line decided by one minister, and if he gets it wrong...

It is very easy for any political viewpoint to offer visions of milk and honey, when things go wrong, as inevitably happens under any system, only The Market provides the variety of strategies and speed of response prevent things being as bad as under non-market systems.

Leaving aside the easily dodged barb that health care in the United States - with its heavy level of government intervention - is a blow to libertarianism, one cannot help but note the frequent references to Somalia. I.e. "Should you wish to experience firsthand the results of Libertarianism, you can either move to Somalia". This misunderstanding, conflating libertarianism with anarchy, is easily made since there are people like Murray Rothbard who straddle the two. But strictly speaking libertarians, especially those of an Objectivist bent attacked in the Craccum article, believe in a very strong state. Strong on upholding the security, life and property of its citizens and nation as a whole, but constrained itself by a strong constitution. The rule of enforced law plays a big part in libertarianism, it does not play a big part in Somalia.

Following on from this is Matt and Doug's misapprehension that work under libertarianism is, again, a free-for-all. This is not the case. When you work for someone you are under their care and they will have the duty to ensure that your work environment is safe (i.e. that you can safely exit your factory if it catches fire). You will also still have the right to join a union, they will not be banned, just as your employer also will have the right to prevent his employees from joining a union. The laws that make it more burdensome to get rid of staff (and more of a risk to hire them) and wage laws that make it more costly to have staff (meaning fewer will have jobs)

Lindsay Perigo and The Objectivists are drawn into the fray for no obvious reason. Not all libertarians are Objectivists and Lindsay hasn't even been heavily involved in the party for the past decade. Even still I suppose it is to Lindsay's credit that they had to resort to making up viewpoints (on Jews and Negroes).

To end on a happier note, Matt and Doug did get two things right. First they concede that "Historically, the combination of THE MARKET and total deregulation has produced arguably superior economic growth than in a more regulated market.". Secondly, and more importantly, they implore their readers twice to go to the Libertarianz website to find out what we really believe in. We've just registered on the Colmar Brunton poll as well - the only way is up from here. If you have time the following brief animation is a superb introduction, and this article argues that "Everything you love you owe to Capitalism"


Josh said...

Yeah, see that animation loses me right at the start:

You own your life. To deny this is to imply that another person has a higher claim on your life than you do.

No, to deny this is to deny that "your life" is a thing that can be owned. You life isn't a pretty snowflake/dartboard pattern pinned to your chest, it's an abstract concept.

If you own your life, that implies that ownership of it can be transferred -- how would that work? You die and the other person lives twice as long? Could I give my life to someone who lost theirs, and raise the dead? Holy shit - Jesus was a Libertarian! Sorry.

The animation talks about murder as the "taking" of life in the same way that theft is the taking of property, but that doesn't really work -- if a person murders you, they don't retain your life in their possession (as they would if it were one of your possessions they had taken); your life simply ends. Life is essentially a metaphor; I think Libertarianism goes wrong right at the start by trying to treat the metaphor literally.

HORansome said...

Ah, Josh, you beat me to it. Now you must die, and, in true Objectivist spirit, I shall take your life and wear it as my own.

(But seriously, those were my points and you stole them from me. Somehow. I don't know the mechanism you used but when I find out...)

Luke H said...

Josh and Horansome: OK, who "steers" your life, or who "controls" your life?

Eric: Good points in your response, although your comment that "your employer also will have the right to prevent his employees from joining a union" is technically incorrect. He will have the right to fire any employee who joins a union, and the right not to hire anyone who already belongs to a union, but he cannot actually prevent an employee from joining a union.

HORansome said...

Luke H: I think what your missing (in Josh's response) is the notion that Libertarians-cum-Objectivists, take the property model (or any model, really) too literally; we talk about 'owning' one's life but not in the same sense that I talk about 'owning' my MacBook. Just because they use the same term doesn't mean they refer to the same concept (such as when I say the bank of the river I don't mean the ASB on the bend of the Waikato). In the same respect I 'steer' my own life and I 'steer' the lives of my students, but I don't 'steer' their lives in a manner similar to the way I 'steer' my own.

As to control... Well, I lack a fair amount of control over my life, but whether that's a defect of character or outside influences is up the reader.

Josh said...

HORansome: My methods of plagiarising your brainmeats remain my own. As for my life, we shall fight for it -- to the death! Anyway.

Who "controls" my life? I though that's what we were trying to establish? Sounds like question begging to me.

And in terms of the employers/unions thing, sure, in the Libertarian Utopia, everything is possible, but what is likely? How is it in an employer's interest to not fire union members?

Eric Olthwaite said...


Josh, I agree with pretty much all that you say, but don't think it affects the substance of the animation.

Your life is an abstract concept and in a sense you *do* transfer at least parts of your life to others all the time. You give your time and labour to your employer, or your money to the supermarket. As you may have noticed, the concept of "life" used here is used in a much broader sense than pure biological functioning. It is your time, your labout, your property and so on.

The metaphor of "taking" someone's life, or rather that it is inaccurate, cannot be wholly blamed on libertarians. People have been saying things like "Fred was 'taken' from us too young" for centuries. A better metaphor for murder would be vandalism, blowing up a letterbox. They don't have your letterbox and you don't either. Your letterbox is gone completely, and the same with murder, they don't have possess your life and you don't either, it is gone.

Something like the concept of defamation might be better as well. it's purely abstract but still affected by others.


I disagree. The employer could put a clause in a contract saying "no unions" - a preventative measure.

Also, be *very* precise with your terms. You've just moved the goalposts from "ownership" to "control" - two different concepts.

PC said...

"Life is essentially a metaphor..."

Now that's hilarious. That really is funny. Life is a metaphor? Really? (Sorry, still laughing.)

Now, the metaphor in use here is 'owning your life.' Of course you can't "own your life," any more than you can "own your body." (You don't 'own' your body'; in all essential points, your body is you. And so, temporally, with your life.)

But while these metaphors are imprecise, that doesn't make them any less useful as a shorthand for the actual point: my life is my business.

PS: Good piece, Eric.

Josh said...

PC: Like I say, the idea that your life is your business or that you "control" your life is surely the point that animation is trying to establish. If we're to take it that the statement "you own your life" means just that, then the argument is question-begging; either that or the whole thing isn't an argument at all, just an unsupported claim.

Like your unsupported claim on the nature of "life" as a concept. Don't worry though, your mocking laugher more than makes up for it. Most convincing.

HORansome said...

Well, yes, PC's mocking laughter is always somewhat reminiscent of a priest laughing at a small child who dares to question the existence of god.

David S. said...

PC, you read "Life" to mean a thing, whereas what it really is a word that encompasses a description.

Anyway, for my reply to Erics post I shall use the terms "Socialism" and "Libertarian" in the way they are commonly used today, so as avoid confusing anyone. Aside from the academics of course, who don't bother with the ways of the common man.

The issue I take with libertarianism is it's sustainability. Capitalism, in it's rawest form, is about creating strength in numbers. Those who cooperate with others the most effectively succeed over those who do not, which may be a strength, but it also it's greatest weakness.

Society is not based on laws, it is based on influence. Laws have some influence themselves, but they are ultimately controlled by the same collective zietgeist everything else capitulates to. No matter how "Strong" you make the constitution of such a system it will always be subject those who wield the most influence. Capitalism breeds socialism. I'd rather have a system where I get some say in what kind of a socialism I get, rather than having the pot luck approach laissez faire offers.

The advantage of our current system is that it's devisive. The power brokers in a social democracy are those that care the least about it, as such progression in any direction is slow and tedious. Which suits me just fine, as it lowers the likelyhood of violent uprising when change inevitably occurs.