God-Like Minds

I write today about the mindset of so-called liberals and many of their emotional brethren of the bleeding-heart-libertarian-left (a compound oxymoron of the first order). They view the world from a lofty perch, in judgment of all and sundry; for example:

  • The redistribution of income and wealth increases global (or national) well-being.
  • Free migration of people across borders increases global well-being.
  • War is a bad thing because so many people are killed.

What’s missing from such statements? The particular instances of bad or good that cut in the opposite direction: the harm to those whose income and wealth are redistributed; the harm to those whose jobs are lost, and whose taxes rise to support indigent immigrants; the lives and livelihoods of family, friends, and countrymen that are saved by defeating foreign enemies.

The same mindset also operates on a smaller scale. Consider this, from reason.com:

Wages too low? Force employers to pay more.

Too many uninsured? Force Americans to buy coverage.

Not enough parental leave? Force companies to provide it.

Rich people speaking too freely about politics? Rewrite the First Amendment so you can stop them.

A horrific school shooting? Take guns away from people who didn’t do it.

People drinking too much soda? Ban big servings or tax the stuff.

Fantasy sports gambling getting too popular? Shut it down.

I would add: Some people not saving enough for retirement? Force others to subsidize them. That’s just a start; the list could go on and on.

All of this omniscience gives me a headache. It is my devout wish that liberals and liberaltarians would SHUT UP! No one died and made you God.

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Related posts:

Liberalism and Sovereignty

Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice

Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace

Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down

The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament

Romanticizing the State

Libertarianism and the State

The Rahn Curve Revisited

My Defense of the A-Bomb

America’s Political Profile

This is a long post, contrary to my new blogging style, but much of it is quoted material.

REVISED 03/26/16 to incorporate the 9-question survey from Arnold Kling’s book, The Three Languages of Politics. The item linked in the earlier version of this post was an older, 10-question version of the survey, which doesn’t match the scoring key in Kling’s book that’s reproduced here.

Here is the estimable Arnold Kling, writing in The Three Languages of Politics:

I claim that progressives [Ps*], conservatives [Cs], and libertarians [Ls] each use a different heuristic. Because they use different heuristics, they speak different languages.

Each heuristic sets up an axis of favorable and unfavorable. Ps use the heuristic of the oppressed-oppressor axis. Ps view most favorably those groups who can be regarded as oppressed or standing with the oppressed. They view most unfavorably those groups who can be regarded as oppressors. Cs use the heuristic of the civilization-barbarism axis. Cs view most favorably the institutions that they believe constrain and guide people toward civilized behavior, and they view most unfavorably those people who they see as trying to tear down such institutions. Ls use the heuristic of the freedom-coercion axis. Ls view most favorably those who defer to decisions that are made on the basis of personal choice and voluntary agreement, and they view most unfavorably those people who favor government interventions that restrict personal choice.

I find a lot to like in Kling’s trichotomy. If you wonder where you stand, take Kling’s survey. Here it is, followed by a discussion of the scoring key and the key itself:

1. Late in 2012, in Newtown Connecticut, about two dozen school children were murdered in a shooting incident. What this indicates is

a) the need for teachers to be empowered and armed to fight back

b) the need for society to exert more control over the mentally ill

c) the need to reduce the power of the gun lobby 2. In the latter half of 2012, UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on news programs as an Administration spokesperson and described the deaths of Americans

2. In the latter half of 2012, UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on news programs as an Administration spokesperson and described the deaths of Americans at the Libyan consulate in Benghazi as resulting from a protest demonstration. The media should have assigned more significance to the fact that

a) Islamic militants were to blame for the murders

b) Politicians were seeking to assign or deflect blame

c) Susan Rice is a female African-American

3. In the 1940s, ordinary Germans participated in atrocities against Jews. This shows us

a) The dangers of a totalitarian system of government

b) The dangers of a collapse of moral values when a country’s institutions have failed

c) The dangers of anti-Semitism

4. When the issue of changing the tax code comes up, what question is most important?

a) how will the change affect the reward that people get for hard work and thrift?

b) does the government spend money more wisely than individuals?

c) how will the change affect inequality?

5. What is notable about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is that

a) Israelis share American values much more than do Palestinians

b) Palestinians are an oppressed people

c) The government of Israel, Arab governments, the governments of other nations, and the UN are all at fault.

6. In 1992, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found a high rejection rate for mortgage applications by African-Americans. What explains this?

a) racial discrimination

b) African-Americans were more likely to have poor credit histories or insufficient incomes to qualify for mortgages

c) the officials who directed the study had an agenda

7. The wave of mortgage defaults known as the “sub-prime crisis” was caused by mortgage loans that were

a) given to unqualified and undeserving borrowers

b) government-induced

c) predatory

8. The large number of unwed mothers with low income reflects

a) lack of economic opportunities, education, and access to birth control

b) cultural decay, which over-values sexual gratification and undervalues marital responsibility

c) incentives built into our tax and welfare system

9. Since 9/ 11, Presidents have employed controversial powers, such as warrantless surveillance and targeted killing. What do you think of the use of these powers?

a) Because Islamist terrorism is such a difficult and dangerous problem, I support the use of these powers to protect the American people.

b) I am totally against the use of these powers.

c) I am not sure about these powers, but I definitely trust the Obama-Biden administration to use them more judiciously than the Bush-Cheney administration.

Before we score the quiz and interpret your score, please answer one more question. Remember, the answer is not how you would respond. Instead, have in mind someone who agrees with you on many political issues. Which of the following paragraphs best describes how this person feels?

X) My heroes are people who have stood up for the underprivileged. The people I cannot stand are people who do not seem to care about the oppression of working people, minorities, and women.

Y) My heroes are people who have stood up for Western values. The people I cannot stand are the people who do not seem to mind the assault on the moral virtues and traditions that are the foundation for our civilization.

Z) My heroes are people who have stood up for the individual’s right to his or her own choices. The people I cannot stand are people who want government to impose their value system on everyone….

The first dominant heuristic is the one I associate with progressives (henceforth Ps). Ps, who are likely to respond X to the basic question, are most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of oppressors and oppressed.

The second dominant heuristic is one I associate with conservatives (henceforth Cs). Cs, who are likely to respond Y to the basic question, are most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of civilization and barbarism.

The third dominant heuristic is one I associate with libertarians (henceforth Ls). Ls, who are likely to respond Z to the basic question, are most comfortable with language that frames political issues in terms of freedom and coercion.

In short, my hypothesis is that someone who picked X on the basic question will tend to give corresponding progressive answers to the other nine questions. Someone who picked Y will tend to give conservative answers. Someone who picked Z will tend to pick libertarian answers. Now, go back and score your quiz to find out how many Ps, Cs, and Ls you picked. Match your answers as indicated below.

Give yourself one P for each of the following: 1c, 2c, 3c, 4c, 5b, 6b, 7c, 8a, 9c.

Give yourself one C for each of the following: 1b, 2a, 3b, 4a, 5a, 6c, 7a, 8b, 9a.

Give yourself one L for each of the following: 1a, 2b, 3a, 4b, 5c, 6a, 7b, 8c, 9b.

My guess is that progressives will have at least 6 Ps. My guess is that conservatives will have at least 4 Cs and fewer than 3 Ps. My guess is that libertarians will have at least 4 Ls and fewer than 3 Ps.

You may not agree in every case with Kling’s alignment of an answer with a political point of view (I don’t), but the overall result is probably in the ballpark. I chose Y for the basic question, and scored 6 Cs, 2 Ls, and 1 P (which I attribute to an error in Kling’s scoring scale); my actual score is 7 Cs and 2 Ls.** Inasmuch as traditional conservatism (my brand) is tantamount to true libertarianism (e.g., this post), I’m pleased to be classified as a conservative with libertarian leanings.

As for sorting progressives, conservatives, and libertarians, here’s my take: Someone with a lot of (i.e., 6 or more) Cs is unlikely to have even 1 P. (I don’t, really.) Someone with a lot of Ps is unlikely to have even 1 C, though he might have a few Ls. Someone with a lot of Ls is more likely to have some Ps, than some Cs.

But Kling’s survey is unlikely to be encountered by a more typical denizen of the United States. Such a person doesn’t think deeply or consistently about politics, but is more likely to be preoccupied with paying a mortgage or the rent, raising children or ignoring them to the extent possible, boozing with buddies (male and/or female), reading trashy novels (if anything), watching TV fare on a par with Dancing with the Stars, and so on. Such a person would probably weigh in with a mix of Cs, Ps, and Ls — and would prefer to give more than one answer to most of the questions. Such a person would be an adherent of America’s dominant political strain, which I call wishy-washy.

In short, I think the political landscape boils down to this:

  • A fringe of true Conservatives, some of them with a libertarian streak
  • A larger fringe of all-out progressives
  • A minuscule fringe of all-out libertarians
  • A microscopic fringe of left-libertarians, whose oxymoronic belief in libertarian communitarianism leads them to sympathize with progressives rather than conservatives
  • The wishy-washy masses in the vast middle, who go with what seems “nice” or “in style.” (Some wishy-washiers like to call themselves “centrists,” which is the verbal equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.)

Conservatives and progressives are irreconcilable, as are conservatives and all-out libertarians. I also see no way of reconciling left-libertarians with all-out libertarians or conservatives.

But none of that matters much. Wishy-washiness dominates, which is why election outcomes seem to careen from one extreme to the other.
* “Progressive” and its variants set my teeth on edge. There’s nothing progressive about so-called liberalism. I suspect that Kling uses “progressive” instead of “liberal” because he would otherwise have L for liberal and L for libertarian. I follow his usage here only to avoid confusion.

** Regarding question 6, Kling says that answer a) is libertarian, but pinning the blame on racial discrimination strikes me as progressive (racial discrimination is a kind of oppression, and blacks are victims of it). Kling says that answer b) is progressive, but answer b) — my answer — is a realistic but unfavorable  appraisal of the economic status of blacks, which strikes me as conservative (i.e., attributing to blacks an “uncivilized” or negative trait that stems from their generally lower intelligence and greater dependence on the welfare state). Kling says that answer c) is conservative, but it really pins the blame on government, which is a libertarian response. My two libertarian responses were to items 1 and 7.

Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists (Redux)


Jim Manzi nails Matt Zwolinski’s call for a Basic Income Guarantee:

At the highest level, Zwolinski argues that a BIG is consistent with libertarian theory. And in the alternative, argues that in the real world of practical politics a welfare system of some kind will be with us for a long time, and a BIG is better than the dog’s breakfast of social welfare programs that we have today. Nested within this is another narrower argument in the alternative. He claims that social science evidence indicates that it not clear that a BIG would result in a reduction in work effort. But he argues that even if it did, this would not necessarily be a bad thing.

In other words, Zwolinski and his bleeding-heart ilk on the so-called libertarian left just want to dole out taxpayers’ dollars to satisfy their urge for “social justice.” Liberty has nothing to do with it. If it did, they’d care about the liberty of those taxpayers who would be forced to subsidize the indolent.

Yes, the indolent. Manzi explains:

It is fairly extraordinary to claim [as Zwolinski does] that the government could guarantee every adult in America an income even if they did zero work of any kind, and that somehow this would not reduce work effort. Zwolinksi should be able to provide strong evidence for such a claim. But we have scientific gold standard evidence that runs exactly the other way. A series of randomized experiments offered a version of Zwolinski’s proposal between 1968 and 1980. These tested a wide variety of program variants among the urban and rural poor, in better and worse macroeconomic periods, and in geographies from New Jersey to Seattle. They consistently found that the tested programs reduce the number of hours worked versus the existing welfare system, and the tested levels of progressivity of implicit tax rates did not get around this problem by encouraging work, as Zwolinski’s theoretical argument asserts they should.

But that doesn’t bother Zwolinski. In fact, he seems rather proud to be a proponent of indolence:

[S]uppose that a BIG actually would, on net, increase unemployment somewhat…. [S]o what? Is it so obviously a flaw in the system if it leads more parents to take time off work to stay home with their children? Or college graduates to take a year off before beginning to work? Or if, among the population as a whole, the balance between work and leisure is slightly shifted toward the latter? My point is not that there isn’t any story that could be told about why work disincentives might be a problem. My point is simply that, even if they were guaranteed to occur, they wouldn’t obviously be a problem.

Well, they obviously would be a problem, as Manzi points out. And, anyway, who is Zwolinksi to decide that my tax dollars should subsidize parental leave, gap years, or more leisure. Those are personal decisions to be made by the persons involved, not by Zwolinski.

One more thing. Zwolinkski’s defense of BIG on the ground that it might promote leisure is a faithful echo of the defense mounted by the left when confronted by a CBO study that estimates the work disincentives of Obamacare’s premium subsidies. Their defense? Those who work less will simply “choose more leisure.” The inconvenient fact that more leisure comes at taxpayers’ expense goes unmentioned.

I repeat what I say here. Zwolinski and his bleeding-heart brethren are birds of a feather with left-statists like Barack Obama, most Democrats in Congress, most professors of the so-called liberal arts, and most members of the media.

ADDENDUM (09/10/14): Just to put another nail in the coffin, I refer you to Stella Morabito’s “Licensing Parents: A Statist Idea in Libertarian Drag” (The Federalist, September 10, 2014). Excerpts:

Imagine you cannot raise your own child without special permission from the state. In this matrix, getting permission means getting a license. And getting a license means the state performs psychological evaluations and background checks and passes judgment on your fitness to be a parent. That’s that. No license, no kid—you are forcibly separated from your baby.

Now, who do you think would come up with a scheme? Marxists, you say? Of course, and for nearly two centuries. Gender theorists? Oh, yes, and for decades on end. Population control fanatics? No question. How about meddlesome, brain-dead bureaucrats? Check.

But what if I told you this idea came out recently, all dressed up as a “libertarian” essay?…

The essay in question is entitled, directly enough: “Licensing Parents,” authored by one Andrew Cohen, a philosophy professor. It was posted on a website that claims to be searching for common ground between free markets and far-Left statism, er, “social justice.” The blog goes by the name “Bleeding Heart Libertarians.” (For those who aren’t former Episcopalians or negotiators with communists, you’ll need to understand that a “search for common ground” is generally a time tested camel’s-nose-in-the-tent ploy. The more gracious the host, the more quickly the camel takes over the tent…)…

…[A]ccording to Cohen, parenting is merely another “service,” i.e., caregiving. And he believes we ought to license it as we do any other service, like practicing medicine or law or pharmacy. Actually, he doesn’t think we should license medicine, law, or pharmacy. You’re an adult, see, and you can make your own choices there. But because children can’t make their own choices and you might do the child harm, you must be licensed. Cohen provides some anecdotes about child abuse, and says the state should always step in before any such thing can ever even happen. Hence, this scheme to entrust all-knowing, always benevolent, deeply caring state bureaucrats to dictate the lifelong relationships of all vulnerable beings.

There’s much more. Read the whole thing and weep for liberty at the hands of bleeding-heart libertarians. They love liberty, you see, as long as it yields outcomes of which they approve.

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Related posts:
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Corporations, Unions, and the State
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Why Conservatism Works
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Getting Liberty Wrong

Left-Libertarianism in a Nutshell

If I have a least-favorite political philosophy, it is the one that I call left-minarchism (a.k.a., left-libertarianism). I say a lot about it in “Parsing Political Philosophy (II).” In a nutshell, here’s how it stacks up against right-minarchism (libertarian conservatism) and left-statism (the reigning philosophy in the United States):

Left-minarchism in a nutshell

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Related post: The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament (see also the links at the bottom)