Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why is it always the "liberals" who avoid debate?

So... I got into a debate on Facebook today, which culminated in a "friend", unfriending me for making an argument she disagreed with, but also had no actual counter-arguments against.

She'd posted a thing about President Obama chiming in on this whole "legitimate rape" fiasco by US Representative Todd Akin, an idiot who is currently vying for the Senate seat in Missouri... Obama made the obvious, but worthy, statement that "rape is rape" and that there's no legitimate, acceptable or non-bad varieties. Kudos to that... But then, she said:
"Exactly, Ryan. First, he stated the obvious (rape is rape). And, then, he pointed out (well, I guess it should also be obvious but needed to be said, too) that men should stop thinking they always know what's best for women and their bodies!"
I praised Obama for his correctness on rape, but I also pointed out that, alas, this was a pretty ironic statement for Obama, since his entire set of health care policies revolves around politicians, bureaucrats and their cronies (very loosely defined here as 'people') telling other people - definitely including women - that they know what's best for them and their respective bodies.

I added that because of the increased role for government in health care, every aspect of those issues would become more and more politicized. I also quoted my "economist friend" (one Steve Horwitz, point of fact), who had just a few minutes earlier written:
"If you don't want other people making your medical decisions for you, stop asking other people to pay for them."
The response this point elicited was:
"So, healthcare shouldn't be a basic human right?"
No, I said. Of course it isn't a right.

It's a fairly specific set of goods & services which need to be provided to consumers by producers. I continued by pointing out that while health care is very important, it (being comprised of tangible goods and services) is subject to the same laws of economics as everything else. I then tried to explain that the assertion of health care as a "basic human right" assumes a lot of false premises and glosses over a lot of concepts and definitions.

No real response to that... But... She does give me some of the classic emotionally accusatory arguments, like:
"So, I should be poor, because I happened to get sick?"
"So, by your logic, people with disabilities should be poor?
Because, it is really expensive to have a disability."
It's all very predictable.

Her friends chime in by calling Dr. Horwitz (who I have not named, and whom they do not know) a "buffoon". I get called "stupid". No actual reasons given for either.

Note that I have not uttered a single insult or even used language other people find offensive at this point. All I've done is say - fairly politely - that the people on the other side of the issue are wrong, and that they're ignoring/glossing over a lot of important things... Things which I've gone to some great length explaining in detail.

Quoth my details:
"Simply saying that it's a "basic human right" makes a TON of assumptions and glosses over an immense amount of concepts and definitions without any substantial thought given to what you're really talking about.

It glosses over the differentiation between rights and privileges. In other words, you've glossed over the major difference between "negative" rights and "positive" rights. "Negative" rights are moral obligations/abilities to be free from aggression against you and your property, such as the right to be free from being raped (also including the responsibility not to aggress against other people). By contrast, "positive" rights - which should more accurately be understood as entitlements and privileges - refer to the material goods and services (like health care) that you demand someone else to provide for you for your benefit at their expense or at the expense of other people.

It's really easy to think about what you're getting at no cost to you or the people you want to help. It's a lot harder to think through the reality of the costs and changing incentives.

It also glosses over the political economy of all of this stuff... By which I mean, you assume that "health care" should mean whatever *you* want it to mean and ignore that once you politicize the provision, payment and delivery of health care, you've subjected the definition of what counts or does not count to the whims of politicians and special interest groups. And that's the real point.... By demanding that other people pay for your health care, you've also given other people the power to control what you can or cannot do with your own body... because "health care" does not mean the same thing to everyone."
Anyway... It all continues as I defend my position and either talk past people's understanding of the issues, or get responses that are either just entirely incoherent given what I actually said, or which are logical fallacies in general, or which are incorrect.

One of her friends actually defended the assertion that health care is a "basic human right" simply by copying and pasting from the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even after I pointed out that this is a ludicrous argument from authority, and after noting that the UN declaration is absurdly self-contadictory... I don't think anyone actually understood what I was saying.

As major Facebook arguments sometimes go, there was much ridiculousness... So I'll skip most of the rest of it and cut straight to the end.

Finally, I got the main woman to respond a tiny bit more directly to what I had actually written, and the following details her final statement before the unfriending and my responses. I leave them all here because I always find these kinds of debates to result in good blog and brain-fodder and I would prefer not to forget the arguments real people I debate are actually making so that in the future I will not be accused of debating strawmen (as unfortunately she spent a good deal of time doing earlier today).

So... Here you go:
1. "I told you, health care means affordable insurance and access to clinics/doctors, so you can take care of illnesses and prevent getting sick (or have early detection)."
And what I'm trying to explain to you is that the *method* which you support employing to acheive those goals is incorrect and counterproductive, if not outright harmful to what you hope to accomplish.

This is the whole point. You accuse me of being a "troll" and of caring "more about money than people" but that could not be farther from the truth.

I not only care deeply about people, I also want to make sure that the policies enacted to help people ACTUALLY help, rather than make things worse, which is precisely what I believe the ACA is already doing.
2. "I also think more health plans should cover dental visits"
Right. And someone else thinks they should cover dental visits and cosmetic surgery. Someone else thinks they should cover all that plus psychiactric treatment. Someone else thinks that it should cover their hypoallergenic pillow. Someone else thinks it should cover their weekly purchase of medicinal marijuana, or their organic honey, or their raw milk.

That's not a principle or an argument. It's an assertion of a want.

We all want someone else's payments for "health care" to include everything we want it to include... But the reality of health care is that - as I've said a half a dozen times, it's a set of goods and services that must be produced by people, and is therefore quite scarce in the grand scheme of things.

Simply asserting that you want insurance to include this, that, or everything you can think of doesn't change the fact of that scarcity, which means that using the government to force insurers to cover everything, or directly forcing doctors to provide services for "free", will result in massive shortages of actual health care as people over consume and under produce.

This is why you can't ignore economics any more than you can ignore gravity... more on that in one second.
3. "How is citing a document of rights an argument from authority but saying "my unnamed professor friend said this" is not an argument from authority? You have given me NO citations or list of references."
I didn't cite my professor friend as an authority. I cited his argument because I liked his phrasing. It's exactly the same argument I was going to make in my own words any way. That is entirely different from saying "Health care is a right, see this UN document says that it is".

That's an assertion from authority. Big, BIG difference. There was no moral or philosophical argument contained in the citation of the UN declaration of human rights. The implied premise was merely that the UN says health care is a right, therefore, it is a "right" - completely and utterly surpassing the actual "reasoned argument" portion of the discussion.

She might as well have said "The bible says it's wrong to have any gods before the one true god, therefore, that is what we should do."

How is that unclear?

My argument - in my friend's words again - was: "If you don't want other people making your medical decisions for you, stop asking other people to pay for them."

The not-so-hidden premises there are simply that requiring someone else to pay for something instead of paying for it yourself gives the payer some power over the receipient of the benefits. Within the political system that this is all filtered through, this is all the more true whether you want it to be true of not.

If you want the government to stay out of your body, then you should probably stop asking the government to force other people to pay for the health care needs of your body... because the people paying for it are going to have some big incentives to use politics in the other direction and try to get the government to tell you what you can and cannot do with your body. As I said earlier, you can't have it both ways.

You can't force other people pay for your life, and also realistically expect to live your life without those people trying to dictate what you can do.
4. "Your gravity argument makes no sense to me. You seem to be implying that since I care about morality, and can't care about economics, too. I do care about the economy. It's part of the reason I have no money right now. The job market sucks! Also, I have various health issues that cost a lot of money, so I don't have disposable income to spend to boost the economy."
Back to this.

The gravity argument [I had argued that saying, as she did, that she believes "morality" is more important than economics is no different than if she'd said that morality is somehow more important than gravity... it's silly, and makes no sense. Gravity is what it is and your moral convictions do not change that fact at all] is apt. My point is that if you want to fly in a plane, then you need to accept that gravity is what it is and does what it does. You cannot simply wish it away or ignore it and say "I care more about flying than gravity".

Reality doesn't work this way.

There is no trade-off between "caring about people" and "caring about economics". Economics is a study which would help you understand how a specific area of human interaction (the production and exchange of goods and services) actually operates. Knowing about this will help you in your quest to care about people (or if you were evil, in your quest to harm people). It is - like biology or any other science - completely amoral.

It's just knowledge.

Another important thing to note here is that "caring" about economics and studying this specific type of functional operation are two very different things. I care about fireflies in my back yard. I'm not an entomologist [she's got a degree in entomology].
5. "But, no, I don't care about the economy as much as I care about all people having access and freedom of choice when it comes to health care decisions (which is impossible to do without an affordable health insurance plan)."
What you're saying here, possibly without realizing it, is that you want people to have affordable insurance, but you aren't interested in studying how to achieve that goal. Awesome.

I want people to have affordable insurance too!

If you were open to it - and I am sadly certain that you are not - I'd explain precisely why the things I would recommend would accomplish that goal and why the things that you have supported thus far will do the opposite.

I would happily cite as many authorities and piles of data as you'd need in that context, but before I do that... the bigger issue of whether or not you'd be receptive would need to be dealt with.
6. "Your argument (about economics) seems to imply some form of trickle-down economics.

I understand trickle-down economics, and that only works if people are ethical and moral. Most people aren't, which is why it doesn't work!"
A. I'm not now, nor have I ever been talking about Art Laffer-ian "trickle down" economic theory. I'm actually not even sure what I've said would even suggest that I was, although there is an awful lot of confusion as to what that idea actually is all about. I'm arguing for no political payments or favoritism within the health care system or the market in general... Trickle-down assumed the same kind of Keynesian stimulus that Obama argues for now - on the same intellectual grounds actualy - only with the added argument that the optimal people to "stimulate" were rich people.

I disagree with that, but I disagree with it entirely and not just as a matter of where the stimulus money should go.

B. What I'm talking about does not require people to be perfect or 100% moral based on anyone's definition... That said, yours actually does. You're expecting politicians to be ethical and moral and to make the right decisions for everyone and not reward cronies with taxpayer's money... That is something for which I have seen little to no evidence ever happening in the real world, however.

7. "Many health insurance CEOs earn millions of dollars each year, yet many people (including children) have been uninsured and/or in poverty. How is that good for the economy or morality?"
There is a long, and extremely complex answer to this question... the short version of it goes "It could be good, and could be bad".

Do you want the full answer?

* * * * *

She had unfriended me by this point, so I'm assuming that she did not want the full answer.

Now... Apart from the posterity of recording these kinds of conversations, I do have another purpose here, and that is to ponder the nature of why it is always - in my experience, but also according to fairly consistent sociological research [1] - the people who self-identify as "liberals" who both struggle to defend their positions within debates, and are most prone to blocking or unfriending people with whom they disagree?

I don't mean to turn this into a partisan thing, but this is a one area where it seems that there is a legitimate difference between liberals and conservatives. Every time I have a debate with a conservative - even a very heated one - they do two things very differently from the liberals.

First, they tend to spend more time trying to back up their statements with arguments and evidence ... This runs counter to what progressives and liberals usually seem to believe about themselves versus conservatives, but it has been my experience overall.

Liberals, far more often than has ever been acknowledged in my presence, tend to make assertions and then act like (or say outright that) you're just a complete moron for thinking anything to the contrary. Or worse... You're mean-spirited and hateful if you disagree with their conclusions.

Note how this woman's first response was to suggest that I wanted poor people to get sick and die or be broke and in debt. This is very, very common.

The first response to an intellectual challenge - again, in my experience - is nearly always to assume that I agree with all of their analysis and conclusions, but that I have malicious motives. It's not just about health care either... If I argue that minimum wage hurts the poor, the response I will get from liberals is not "Oh, that's interesting and a very different conclusion than I have been told or came to from my reading and research... Why do you believe that?". The response is typically that I'm lying, and that minimum wage obviously helps the poor and everyone knows this, and that my suggesting otherwise is merely a sign that I - personally - want poor people to suffer.

It gets old.

Secondly, conservatives take their metaphorical beatings a lot better. If you make jokes about conservatives, or disagree with conservative or Republican policies, almost no matter how harsh you are in criticizing some of their ideas, most often they'll either laugh with you or they'll accept the criticism and move on. It's really rare to be unfriended and I've never gotten the kind of hate or ad hominem motive impugning from conservatives with whom I've had big debates like I do with liberals.

One argument for this, from an Ohio State study [2], goes like this:
"People with stronger party affiliation, conservative political views, and greater interest in politics proved more likely to click on articles with opposing views, according to the Ohio State study.
"It appears that people with these characteristics are more confident in their views and so they’re more inclined to at least take a quick look at the counterarguments," [Silvia] Knobloch-Westerwick [Ohio State University] noted.

However, Knobloch-Westerwick added that her latest study was not designed to assess reader motives, and that she hopes to more carefully study the issue in the future.

The Brigham Young University survey found that journalists also tended to read liberal blogs — perhaps a reflection of journalists' political beliefs, although even conservatives said liberal blogs were often better-written, Davis pointed out.

Among the political blog readers, a similar trend emerged in which "liberals read almost exclusively liberal blogs, but conservatives tend to read both," [Richard] Davis [Brigham Young University] said."
I buy that all this is true - that liberals are more likely to unfriend people over political disagreements, and more likely to insulate themselves from intellectually oppositional viewpoints - but I don't know if I buy any particular explanation.

So, I would really love to know why this is. Thoughts?

Also... To my progressive friends (and yes, I have several), don't embarrass yourselves like this. If you believe something, be able to defend it and don't assume that anyone who disagrees with you has bad motives. It's bad form, and as far as I'm concerned, evidence of nothing but intellectual cowardice.


  • [1] Rainie, Lee, and Aaron Smith. "Social Networking Sites and Politics." Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. N.p., 12 Mar. 2012.
  • [2]  Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick and Jingbo Meng. "Looking the Other Way: Selective Exposure to Attitude-Consistent and Counterattitudinal Political Information." Communication Research, June 2009; vol. 36, 3: pp. 426-448., first published on March 16, 2009

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Paul Ryan vs. Libertarianism

Here's a little exchange from a Reason.com post this morning that pretty much sums up how frustrating any election can be for libertarians:

  • joshua corning|  |
    Conservatives are calling him a libertarian...but they are saying it like it is a good thing.
  • Mad Scientist|  |
    TEAM RED is all talk. They'll still vote for Bush IV instead of Johnson.
  • joshua corning|  |
    My point was that there are people of all political stripes calling Ryan a libertarian...even though he is not.
  • Mad Scientist|  |
    Agreed. And all this means is we get to take the blame when Romney and Co. (continue to) fuck everything up.
  • Cytotoxic|  |
    We'll take the blame anyway.
Can you imagine valuing a fairly distinctive political philosophy and watching it get bastardized at every available opportunity?

By reporters, pundits, politicians, and lay people alike? 

Democrats create strawmen out of it and act like libertarians are either insane David Koresh type religious gun-nuts, or we're the most selfish people who've ever lived who want to dismantle government because we hate the sick, poor and elderly... and then they equate even the slightest reduction in state power suggested by anybody with the philosophy and apply the label regardless of anything else that person supports.

Republicans then take up the libertarian language and talk a big game on individualism and freedom, but their actual actions - in general - are anything but. 

I know everyone complains about "no true Scotsman" fallacies and litmus tests and all that, but let's be really clear about this. If you are supporting NDAA, the PATRIOT ACT, auto & bank bailouts, and any number of other interventions into the economy and restrictions of civil liberties... you are - quite explicitly - NOT a libertarian.


Just because Paul Ryan is moderately capable of doing math and offered a budget which plans for ever so slightly less spending over time than the plans offered by anyone else does not make him a libertarian. It just makes him someone who is only slightly - and I do mean slightly - more sane on government spending than anyone else who has any mainstream notoriety within Team Red.

Libertarianism is about non-aggression and freedom.

Balancing budgets and things like that is good policy, but it's not libertarian policy. Reducing the size and scope of the state is libertarian policy (and it's great policy, by the way), but it's also naturally going to come with reducing budgets. If you don't have military outposts in 120 countries around the world, and you're not running an immense welfare bureaucracy, and you're not involved in regulating everything from shoe rubber to health care... well... you don't need to spend so much.

You also don't need to tax people so much.

But that's actually very different from the economics of our nation's debt situation. That is completely unsustainable, but that's not a matter of political ideology. That's a matter of arithmetic. It's extremely apolitical and very much non-partisan. What to do about the debt situation gets more political, but even so, there are a number of reasons why we have a spending problem and not a problem with "revenue", as some would like to euphemistically refer to taxation.

In any case, here's the point for those who are unclear about it. Paul Ryan's interest in reducing the deficit does not make him anything close to a "libertarian". Here's a handy venn diagram I made to help illustrate the point:

Take note, note takers.

Oh... One other thing. Jack Hunter hit the nail on the head earlier today about why libertarians like myself don't really like Paul Ryan:
Paul Ryan is good on entitlement reform. He’s certainly better than 90% of Republicans on this issue.

But then there’s the rest of his record. Here’s a rundown of some of Ryan’s record compliments of the Cato Institute’s David Boaz:

'As I say, the test for a fiscal conservative is how he votes on budget-busting bills. And there, Paul Ryan has a real problem. Consider his votes during his 14 years in Congress and particularly during the 8 years of the Bush administration:

  • FOR the No Child Left Behind Act (2001)
  • FOR the Iraq war (2002)
  • FOR the Medicare prescription drug entitlement (2003)
  • FOR Head Start reauthorization (2007)
  • FOR Economic Stimulus Act (January 2008)
  • FOR extending unemployment benefits (2008)
  • FOR TARP (2008)
  • FOR GM/Chrysler bailout (2008)
  • FOR $192 billion anti-recession spending bill (2009)'

Despite this record, most conservatives are still excited about Paul Ryan. Most libertarians are not.

Do most conservatives agree with Ryan on these votes? With the arguable exception of Iraq, no. But Ryan is still their guy. Their someone.

Do libertarians agree with Ryan on these votes? No. Therefore, he doesn’t represent something they can get behind.
Jack pretty much nailed it. Now, let's stop having this stupid discussion, everyone. Paul Ryan is no libertarian. Not by a long shot. If you're a reporter, it might behoove you to actually learn what libertarians believe, rather than assuming that - like Republicans and Democrats - there is no coherent philosophy at all and it's all just a hodgepodge of policy preferences.

How to Earn More Money and Enjoy Your Life More!

Don't worry. This isn't really a self-help blog, and I'm not selling a new "system"or get-rich-quick scheme.

A few minutes ago, on Facebook, I tried to explain some economics basics to someone who has historically been very unresponsive to these kinds of discussions. Well... That's an understatement. She's actively hostile, unfortunately I would say mostly because she actively misunderstands core concepts and definitions.

Note: "Equilibrium" is a non-attainable construct, fyi. 
She complains that she works really hard, and she's done everything that she needs to do to be successful, but she still doesn't earn a very good living - and that this is because employers, from self-owned entrepreneurial ventures to international megacorporations are all greedy, selfish and evil. Now... She has a chronically negative attitude, and she also has - in the past - not only acknowledge, but expressed pride at being "bitchy".

And ok... Not that it has to be this way, but for what it's worth, she also prides herself on being a super liberal feminist.

I'm not saying all super liberal feminists are bitchy, but.......... this one is, and she has made it clear to me that she wants to be that way. She considers it "being herself". I think the philosophy she's chosen to accept as defining of who she is has a big role to play in all of this, but that's not really the subject of my post. But for the record, philosophy matters. If you view the world as a place primarily of exploitation, and in terms of polylogistic Marxism, you're much more likely to look outward when things don't go your way.

Instead of asking, "What can I change about me?", you're more likely to ask, "What aspect of the Patriarchy is at fault for my situation?". This is what this particular woman does... and... even if she was right that "The Patriarchy" is keeping her down (and she really isn't), there's still not much she can do about that, and there's a lot she can do about her own attitude & actions.

But... As I said, she has made it clear that she likes her attitude just as it is.

And I guess that'd be fine... except that she also constantly complains about this and blames everyone else for what strike me as the obvious consequences of her choices. So today, in a fit of stupid procrastination, I comment on a predictable "Walmart is evil!" type of post, and point out that in fact, Walmart has made many millions of poor people's lives much, much better off by affording them the opportunity to attain a standard of living that higher priced stores would never have done prior to Walmart.

This gets us into a discussion of exploitation, and of how she's spent her life working low paid, menial jobs, and how awful all this has been for her.

So...... I say, as I'm sure I've said before, "Why don't you develop some new skills, and find a better job?"

Usual excuses ensue. To the effect of:
  1. You don't know me, I have plenty of skills
  2. All the employers I've ever worked for were evil, greedy, profit-hungry jerks and I've been exploited
  3. I work really, really hard and get nowhere
So... I try to explain to her a few things. Most important among these things is the idea that the way to get ahead and develop a better income is - at root - simply to make sure that the hard work you're engaging in is directed in a way that is highly valued by other people, and that this isn't personal, and it's not an issue of exploitation. It's simply an issue of supply & demand. If you're hoping to earn a living doing something that's either in high supply (like being an actor or a musician), or in low demand (like selling fried chicken in South Beach), then you should not expect to earn a ton of money.

This isn't because everyone hates you. It's because you're doing the wrong things.

Her response:
"i guess i don't work hard enough and have enough VALUE for people like you."
So I attempt to explain again. It's not that she doesn't have enough "VALUE" for "people like me", whatever that really means, it's that she's not offering (or participating as the employee in offering) a good or a service that is in high demand... That's all.

It's not about how you should feel about yourself, or how other people should feel about you as a person. It's just... an error. That's really it. But... Again, her response is:
"Right, let me live my life as VALUE for others. PASS!"
Honestly. This just makes me sad...

I'm sure she works plenty hard... but she treats my discussion of value as if it's something personal about her when it's got nothing to do with that.

She seems to believe that everything anyone does is equally valuable - and perhaps in our own minds, that's true - but that asks and answers a very different question than the question of value in a market where you are trying to find ways to increase your standard of living through mutually beneficial trade.

What we do in that context is not at all equally valuable at all!

She even said that she felt like this discussion is a "personal dig" at her, and that I was judging her life in one way or another. But that's not even the case. I'm not judging "her". I'm just stating the obvious. However hard she is working now, or at any other time in her life, if she's still complaining that she's a middle-aged woman stuck in a dead-end anti-career and barely scraping and she doesn't like her life this way, then she needs to make a change.

I used a different example with her, but... it's like this:

If everybody wants ice cream, then give them ice cream. If everybody wants frozen yogurt instead, and nobody is coming to your ice cream shop anymore... make the change to frozen yogurt. That's not a personal dig against your ice cream making skills, it's just accepting that in reality, other people want something else now.

If you desperately want to make ice cream, and loathe frozen yogurt for one reason or another, then your path is going to be a bit harder... You need - in that case - to make the best damn ice cream anybody has ever had, or you need to start finding your niche with all the hold-over ice cream lovers and hipster iconoclasts who eat ice cream ironically now that froyo is too trendy.

It's not about living your life as "A VALUE" for others in the sense that you subordinate yourself and everything you think about to someone else's every whim. It's simply about recognizing that material success and earning high incomes and the improved standards of living that go along with that are mostly dependent on what you can offer other people based on what they want... The better you are at doing that, the fewer hours per day you'll even need to work and you can live for yourself even better.

Best of all, you can do what I basically do, and find the intersection where the things you're passionate about, are skilled at and love to do actually overlap with what other people value, and do both simultaneously. That way you'll not only enjoy what you're doing for a living, you'll be paid better for it as well. It's not as hard as this poor woman wants to believe that it is, and it isn't predicated on waiting for everybody else to just start being really nice to you.

It mostly just makes me sad that this woman is so angry and closed-minded to this basic concept... So I thought I'd quickly write this blog for other people's benefit. Hope it helps.