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R_P

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Posted: Jan 24, 2020 - 10:49am

 westslope wrote:
=> drug-addled Americans are dying from 'legally available drugs'.

=>  the same factors driving white middle-aged Americans to die earlier could be symptoms of the underlying problems that have driven so many Americans to vote for and continue to support Donald J. Trump.
"We need to think hard about controlling the prescriptions of opioid painkillers. The Federal Drug Administration recently approved Oxycontin for kids," Deaton said. "While some kids are in awful, terminal pain, and can clearly benefit from it, the scope for abuse is there, especially if pharmaceutical companies misbehave, as they have done in the past. But if what is happening is an epidemic of despair, that people on the bottom of the economic heap are being increasingly left out as inequality expands, then what we are seeing is just one more terrible consequence of slow growth and growing inequality."

westslope

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Location: BC sage brush steppe


Posted: Jan 24, 2020 - 8:51am

The takeaways from Stiglitz piece, US longevity studies and ensuing discussion?

=> US health outcomes are awful.  

=>  drug-addled Americans are dying from 'legally available drugs'.

=>  the same factors driving white middle-aged Americans to die earlier could be symptoms of the underlying problems that have driven so many Americans to vote for and continue to support Donald J. Trump.


The USA and the rest of the rich, developed world have gone through/are still going through the upset caused by the massive economic impact of modern information technology (IT). 

The USA has responded well in the past to various waves of significant economic innovation in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Why are so many Americans experiencing so much difficulty adapting to the current impact of IT?





R_P

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Posted: Jan 23, 2020 - 2:21pm

 black321 wrote:
 R_P wrote:
 black321 wrote:
How can you blame the drop in life expectancy on trumps first two years?

You can't. And he doesn't. Coverage is but one possible aspect (or contribution to the continued decline), another is the one mentioned right after: "deaths of despair".  Compared to a 1999 data point...

Though I'm sure the latter are all but gone by now in Trump's Greater America!


He did, indicating it wasnt a surprise due to  the higher uninsured rate.  Which might have a modest impact on life expectancy...but arguably not a primary cause for a long-term trend. 
 
He did. He didn't. From that same sentence (before noting no surprise):

"...in 2017, midlife mortality reached its highest rate since World War II."

Trump was just Prez then. Mortality rates have been increasing since 1998 for white middle-aged Americans (only).
black321

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Location: A sunset in the desert
Gender: Male


Posted: Jan 23, 2020 - 1:53pm



 R_P wrote:
 black321 wrote:
How can you blame the drop in life expectancy on trumps first two years?

You can't. And he doesn't. Coverage is but one possible aspect (or contribution to the continued decline), another is the one mentioned right after: "deaths of despair".  Compared to a 1999 data point...

Though I'm sure the latter are all but gone by now in Trump's Greater America!

 

He did, indicating it wasnt a surprise due to  the higher uninsured rate.  Which might have a modest impact on life expectancy...but arguably not a primary cause for a long-term trend. 
R_P

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Posted: Jan 23, 2020 - 1:32pm

 black321 wrote:
How can you blame the drop in life expectancy on trumps first two years?

You can't. And he doesn't. Coverage is but one possible aspect (or contribution to the continued decline), another is the one mentioned right after: "deaths of despair".  Compared to a 1999 data point...

Though I'm sure the latter are all but gone by now in Trump's Greater America!
black321

black321 Avatar

Location: A sunset in the desert
Gender: Male


Posted: Jan 23, 2020 - 1:20pm



 R_P wrote:
 
While it had much truth to it, it wasnt a completely honest article. How can you blame the drop in life expectancy on trumps first two years? the uninsured rate is higher, but still lower than it was pre-obama.  

It's not fair to compare job gains under Trump with Obama, given the rate would normally slow after the ramp up following the recession. 

The biggest issue is the irresponsible tax cut and slash and burn effort to deregulate. And i think most, but not all, did get a tax cut...though it was skewed heavily to the rich.

R_P

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Posted: Jan 23, 2020 - 1:07pm

 westslope wrote:
 R_P wrote:
 
The problem with Joseph Stiglitz is that he uses too many words.    The people he should reach will likely quit after the third paragraph. 

"Too many notes, Mozart!"

Nothing can be done for people who limit themselves to 3 or 4 word slogans...
westslope

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Location: BC sage brush steppe


Posted: Jan 23, 2020 - 12:49pm



 R_P wrote:
 
The problem with Joseph Stiglitz is that he uses too many words.    The people he should reach will likely quit after the third paragraph.  

R_P

R_P Avatar



Posted: Jan 19, 2020 - 12:25pm

Stiglitz: The Truth About the Trump Economy
westslope

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Location: BC sage brush steppe


Posted: Jan 2, 2020 - 11:46am

Two blog posts on libertarianism.

What libertarianism has become and will become — State Capacity Libertarianism

by Tyler Cowen January 1, 2020

(Adjective) Libertarianism - John H. Cochrane  



Two comments.   Anthropogenic climate change and still deadly air quality are both prime examples of social dilemmas where essentially individual incentives lead to poor social outcomes.  Some social dilemmas can be addressed via privatization and others cannot.  Self-styled libertarians do not tend to fair well in this area.  

Both Tyler Cowen and John Cochrane can occasionally exhibit 'us versus them' type thinking in their policy analysis.    Listen guys, if you believe that racial, ethnic or other sectarian exceptions should be made to a rule of strong economic property rights, then please, come out and say so.  

Otherwise, it is sad to think that libertarian and pro-market pundits are supporting a US military budget that would make Neo-Marxists in the Baran and Sweezy tradition proud.  

Peace and good fortune in 2020.
westslope

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Location: BC sage brush steppe


Posted: Dec 28, 2019 - 12:51pm

Why Trump tariffs haven’t revitalized American steelmakers


Critics note that President George W. Bush also sought to protect the steel industry by imposing tariffs in 2002. Rebuked by the WTO, Bush withdrew the tariffs the next year. While Bush’s tariffs were in place, the industry actually lost 14,000 jobs.

Lazy8

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Location: The Gallatin Valley of Montana
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 22, 2019 - 11:29pm

NoEnzLefttoSplit wrote:
If it were not already apparent, Lazy8 has presented very cogent arguments about why the state has no legitimacy to levy taxes. He is one of the most erudite proponents of a liberalist viewpoint or neo-liberal or whatever else you want to call it. I don't really care about the label, and I am quite happy to defer that to Lazy8 as to what he wants to call it. The broad approach is that the state not only has no legitimacy to coerce individuals into funding public programs, it is also unparalleled  in its ineptitude in carrying public projects out.

So I am writing to defend the bog-standard modern state as it exists in practically every western and most other countries since the fall of the Soviet Union. A state that levies taxation, monopolizes the use of force (coercion) and takes responsibilty for social welfare defense and national interests in return. I am not some neo-Marxist. I am not championing command economies. I am not some leftist hippy on a white guilt trip. I am about as middle of the road as you can imagine and probably as dull. Sorry to disappoint you.

The reason why I bother writing  so much on these topics is that to some extent, Lazy8 is right. There is a real paucity of arguments out there in favor of the modern state. And I mean really valid arguments. It is often just taken as a given, as the default model because, well, it works. So I am largely writing to fathom why I am in favor of the state and on what foundation that favor lies. And for this Lazy8 is the best sounding board I have come across.

He has two main arguments:
1. the state has no legitimacy on principle. No individual and hence no collective of individuals has a right to coerce another individual into doing something he doesn't want to do, like pay tax. The only exception to this rule is when the individual, in doing whatever it is he wants to do, violates the rights of others (i.e. you can't just go round shooting people, not even tax collectors).
2. public programs are woefully poor performers in rendering the social programs that they think they have a mandate to perform. They lead to entrenched interests, nepotism, bribery, even monopolies in Lazy8's view, the list goes on.

My counter-arguments:
re 1. The legitimacy of the state is based on two pillars. 1) It serves the common good by maximising social cohesion, providing a legislative and judicial framework for a free market to function ("well-oiled machine") and 2) it is chosen by some democractic process and subject to checks and balances.

If it fails on either of these counts, it lacks legitimacy.

The minimum set of rights on which his whole argument is founded is as arbitrary as a wider set of rights and not necessarily better. This is anyway no independent measure, no meta level, for choosing between ethical axioms. His set strives for logical consistency - or better - as little internal inconsistency as possible. I strive for something completely waffly, an equitable society. Whether logical consistency is preferable to waffly "fairness" is up to you.

re 2. I am pretty confident the data support me. I am a big fan of the Scandinavian model. I have lived in both California and in Germany (which also pursues pretty much the Scandinavian model). I know which I prefer. As for NZ, that deserves an entire article on its own. Basically the results on mixed.

And on that note, I am out of here..  no, really, I am going bush for two weeks and won't have much if any internet connection.  have a nice Xmas!


Um...shucks, but I think I need to clarify my actual positions before dealing with a counter argument.

I'm not an anarchist. The adjective you're groping for is libertarian, tho classical liberal would do in a pinch. Neoliberal has become an all-purpose pejorative and been applied to so many disparate ideologies as to be meaningless. Bill Clinton is a neoliberal? Then I'm not a neoliberal.

The discussion so far hasn't touched on taxes, it's been about the exercise of government power in general and primarily centered on law, regulation, and interventions in the economy—so you're arguing with a point I haven't actually made. Your inference of my position isn't far from the mark, but it lacks nuance and I'll make my own points thankyouverymuch.

I haven't argued that taxation is illegitimate, but that's a reasonable corollary from what I have argued. I will argue that taxation is not a priori legitimate because its form and level is always arbitrary. But if we are to have a state (we are) to do anything it must have revenue. Need is not justification;  building a boiler doesn't entitle you to coal.

There are examples of states that fund themselves without taxation, at least on citizens. Saudi Arabia is a prominent example—it has a 20% flat tax on the income of foreigners, but citizens pay no tax and state revenue is largely derived from sales of state-owned oil. Countries with heavy state ownership of industry sometimes claim to operate tax-free off the revenue of those enterprises (North Korea being a prominent example). Lots of countries have tried to supplement leaky tax systems with currency inflation, tho the consensus (except among chartalist economists) is that this is as direct a road to disaster as there is.

Libertarian/minarchist theoreticians have been historically lax when proposing how to fund the state. One philosophically consistent proposal I've seen is a fee for the registration and enforcement of contracts. Enforcement of private contracts is generally thought of (among non-libertarian theorists) as a primary function of a state—one so basic it doesn't need justification. Such a fee ends up looking an awful lot like a sales tax to them.

I'd be happy to roll around in the weeds like this but it is a digression from the ongoing discussion.

States have legitimate functions, as we've discussed before. Per your two points above:

1. The above needs to be amended with outside of the protection of rights. Arresting, prosecuting, and punishing murderers (for instance) is a legitimate function of the state. For the murderers this is not voluntary. Hold your usual reaction about this being a religious view—I'll deal with that below.
2. Not an ironclad principle, but the incentives in place do not favor efficiency or efficacy of state programs. And how you can see a state agency as anything but a monopoly—of precisely the type you claim to want government to protect us from—is a mystery to me. A monopoly that 50.00001% of voters approve of is still a monopoly.

Democracy purports to convey legitimacy, and this is true to a point. I agree that it's necessary but  not sufficient, but not that the common good is the missing piece. The common good is subjective. Streets cleansed of Muslims met that definition for the duly elected Slobodon Milosevic and his supporters; that didn't make the ethnic cleansing of the Balkans morally legitimate. Or do you disagree—that it was legitimate? Because if you want to claim it doesn't pass your test then you need some definition of the common good that the majority of the commoners whose good you purport to represent would reject.

To head off a semantic fight we can separate two issues: the legitimacy of the state itself and that of its actions. A legitimate state can perpetrate acts that are morally illegitimate. The legitimate government of the United States tolerated slavery for far too long. Israel has elections every other afternoon but it has committed acts as morally repugnant—as illegitimate—as those of Serbia. We can console the Palestinians being marched out of Israel (or the Rohingya being driven out of Myanmar) that the state that drove them out was completely legitimate.

Unless you have an objective standard for the common good the moral structure you want to hang civilization on is nothing but glorified mob rule. You haven't suggested one. Without one it's about power and nothing more.

Allow me to suggest an alternate moral structure: that humans have rights inherent to their humanity, irrespective of who governs them and how. They still get to argue about the definition of the common good but now minorities have a stake in it.

Democracy without constraints that protect minorities isn't morally superior to despotism, and isn't any more attractive as a level of social evolution. The rope around your neck hangs you just as well if put there by a king or a parliament. We define those constraints by rights. Unless you have a better concept—let's hear it.

In the latter part of your argument you seem to accept this notion, but want it to be infinitely flexible as a medium to justify interventionist government. But the effectiveness of rights as constraints on the actions of power is diluted when the concept is diluted. Interventions of the type you prefer should e justified on their own terms, not just for practical reasons but to maintain the primary function.

And with that I'm off to bed. By the time you read this I hope you've had a refreshing couple of weeks to ponder things and relax. Merriest of christmases to you!
westslope

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Location: BC sage brush steppe


Posted: Dec 21, 2019 - 12:11pm

NoEnzLefttoSplit:  10^3 thanks.  

1.  Lazy8 is an erudite proponent of his own take on freemarket libertarianism.

2.   Liberal economists have a lot to say about taxes and their incidence, especially how they impact incentives.  They tend to favour consumption taxes.   They have been in favour of so-called 'green taxes' long before the public ever woke up to the notion.  This is not about loving or hating taxes but recognizing as soon folks of all persuasions want governments to provide service x or y, that taxes are absolutely necessary.

In defence of Lazy8, clearly some tax and transfer programs are not well thought out.  I like libertarians because I believe their critique can make the modern nation state better.  

3.  You and I both agree on the importance of the modern nation state.   It is a necessary beast.   For the most part, the evolution of the modern nation state has been positive.  Many small, stable population western nations sport better socio-economic outcomes than the USA, for example, because of differences in policy and perhaps because of a healthier social contract due to different historical paths and demographic composition.

4.  I am also a big fan of the Nordic social democracies (spending 5 summers in Norway while growing up made a lasting impression).   It is important to emphasize (and I believe Lazy8 is in agreement) that the Nordic social democracies do well because they do freemarket capitalism so well.  North American liberal economists might be hesitant to directly import policy from northern Europe but they do recognize the positive outcomes.  That hesitancy comes from a recognition that social cohesion in North America is not as strong as it appears to be in many Nordic social democracies.

Note that the fact that American voters often ignore their own policy experts is one of the factors that leads those of us on the outside to talk about 'American exceptionalism'.  

Happy Solstice!  
NoEnzLefttoSplit

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Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 20, 2019 - 5:06pm



 westslope wrote:


 NoEnzLefttoSplit wrote:

I'd like it if you read my texts below.
 
Sorry.  I have already read enough.   

Once again.  You refuse to define Neo-Liberalism.  Your choice.     Apparently, given your usage, 'Neo-Liberalism' is a derogatory synonym for democratic capitalism as it is currently practiced in rich western countries.

Fine.  Let's leave it at that.

Now tell me, what do you want in its place?   I am pushing the soap box over to you.    If you have a better vision, now is the time to share it.

 

You may have read them but it doesn't look like you understood much.
If it were not already apparent, Lazy8 has presented very cogent arguments about why the state has no legitimacy to levy taxes. He is one of the most erudite proponents of a liberalist viewpoint or neo-liberal or whatever else you want to call it. I don't really care about the label, and I am quite happy to defer that to Lazy8 as to what he wants to call it. The broad approach is that the state not only has no legitimacy to coerce individuals into funding public programs, it is also unparalleled  in its ineptitude in carrying public projects out.

So I am writing to defend the bog-standard modern state as it exists in practically every western and most other countries since the fall of the Soviet Union. A state that levies taxation, monopolizes the use of force (coercion) and takes responsibilty for social welfare defense and national interests in return. I am not some neo-Marxist. I am not championing command economies. I am not some leftist hippy on a white guilt trip. I am about as middle of the road as you can imagine and probably as dull. Sorry to disappoint you.

The reason why I bother writing  so much on these topics is that to some extent, Lazy8 is right. There is a real paucity of arguments out there in favor of the modern state. And I mean really valid arguments. It is often just taken as a given, as the default model because, well, it works. So I am largely writing to fathom why I am in favor of the state and on what foundation that favor lies. And for this Lazy8 is the best sounding board I have come across.

He has two main arguments:
1. the state has no legitimacy on principle. No individual and hence no collective of individuals has a right to coerce another individual into doing something he doesn't want to do, like pay tax. The only exception to this rule is when the individual, in doing whatever it is he wants to do, violates the rights of others (i.e. you can't just go round shooting people, not even tax collectors).
2. public programs are woefully poor performers in rendering the social programs that they think they have a mandate to perform. They lead to entrenched interests, nepotism, bribery, even monopolies in Lazy8's view, the list goes on.

My counter-arguments:
re 1. The legitimacy of the state is based on two pillars. 1) It serves the common good by maximising social cohesion, providing a legislative and judicial framework for a free market to function ("well-oiled machine") and 2) it is chosen by some democractic process and subject to checks and balances.

If it fails on either of these counts, it lacks legitimacy.

The minimum set of rights on which his whole argument is founded is as arbitrary as a wider set of rights and not necessarily better. This is anyway no independent measure, no meta level, for choosing between ethical axioms. His set strives for logical consistency - or better - as little internal inconsistency as possible. I strive for something completely waffly, an equitable society. Whether logical consistency is preferable to waffly "fairness" is up to you.

re 2. I am pretty confident the data support me. I am a big fan of the Scandinavian model. I have lived in both California and in Germany (which also pursues pretty much the Scandinavian model). I know which I prefer. As for NZ, that deserves an entire article on its own. Basically the results on mixed.

And on that note, I am out of here..  no, really, I am going bush for two weeks and won't have much if any internet connection.  have a nice Xmas!




westslope

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Location: BC sage brush steppe


Posted: Dec 20, 2019 - 12:23pm



 NoEnzLefttoSplit wrote:

I'd like it if you read my texts below.
 
Sorry.  I have already read enough.   

Once again.  You refuse to define Neo-Liberalism.  Your choice.     Apparently, given your usage, 'Neo-Liberalism' is a derogatory synonym for democratic capitalism as it is currently practiced in rich western countries.

Fine.  Let's leave it at that.

Now tell me, what do you want in its place?   I am pushing the soap box over to you.    If you have a better vision, now is the time to share it.

NoEnzLefttoSplit

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Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 19, 2019 - 6:23pm

 westslope wrote:
 
Huh?    Frankly I am not at all sure what a neo-liberal approach is.   I understand that school vouchers are referred to as neo-liberal.  Does that mean that tradeable quota fisheries are neo-liberal?  Would critiques rather see open access fisheries?   Poor aboriginal folks have been hurt very badly by open access fisheries.  

Lots of folks on the 'left' have no idea how they have helped screw over American natives and Canadian First Nations.  

  I have reasonably understanding of what Classical Liberal means.   I know what Neo-Classical and New-Classical approaches are in modern bourgeois freemarket economics but that is not how lay critics of freemarket capitalism use the term neo-liberal.

Frankly, I wonder if you despise modern New Zealand.   New Zealand undertook a series of reforms in the late 1980s that ultimately inspired a lot of other rich western countries and for the most part received high praises from liberal economists and similar policy pundits.  Contrast that to Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada where generous federal subsidies have deployed to destroy natural wealth and create high structural unemployment rates.  A lot of Newfoundlanders sound like you just do.  

In my experience, envy-driven politics more often than not ends up in a bad place where the poor and the working poor suffer more.  Dependency theory — popular with Neo-Marxists — could be one of the most toxic ideas to evolve in the late 20th century.

Here's my challenge NoEnz:   if you don't like Neo-liberalism (whatever that is), then what do you like? 

 
I'd like it if you read my texts below.
westslope

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Location: BC sage brush steppe


Posted: Dec 19, 2019 - 5:58pm



 NoEnzLefttoSplit wrote:


 westslope wrote:


 
LOL!  I love the anger.   You sound like a very righteous, virtuous person.   

What is the neo-liberal approach and how does it differ from the 'liberal' approach?   

BTW, how are the testosterone-charged pale-faced sheep ranchers doing in New Zealand these days?  

So are you a Neo-Marxist?   If so, the track record has not been good.   In fact, it has been universally bad.  Unless lower material standards of living, poor quality public services and poverty are what you seek.  

I believe that Neo-Marxist leftists in Canada — many of whom pull down over $100,000/year — are simply targeting the maintenance of authentic tourist experiences for their children in poor developing countries.
 

I know I often might appear to be one brick short of a load, but hopefully I don't come across as that stupid. As for the righteousness, I most definitely fall short of what Lazy8 does for the community IIRC. I am under no illusions about my lack of qualifications for sainthood.
 
Huh?    Frankly I am not at all sure what a neo-liberal approach is.   I understand that school vouchers are referred to as neo-liberal.  Does that mean that tradeable quota fisheries are neo-liberal?  Would critiques rather see open access fisheries?   Poor aboriginal folks have been hurt very badly by open access fisheries.  

Lots of folks on the 'left' have no idea how they have helped screw over American natives and Canadian First Nations.  

  I have reasonably understanding of what Classical Liberal means.   I know what Neo-Classical and New-Classical approaches are in modern bourgeois freemarket economics but that is not how lay critics of freemarket capitalism use the term neo-liberal.

Frankly, I wonder if you despise modern New Zealand.   New Zealand undertook a series of reforms in the late 1980s that ultimately inspired a lot of other rich western countries and for the most part received high praises from liberal economists and similar policy pundits.  Contrast that to Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada where generous federal subsidies have deployed to destroy natural wealth and create high structural unemployment rates.  A lot of Newfoundlanders sound like you just do.  

In my experience, envy-driven politics more often than not ends up in a bad place where the poor and the working poor suffer more.  Dependency theory — popular with Neo-Marxists — could be one of the most toxic ideas to evolve in the late 20th century.

Here's my challenge NoEnz:   if you don't like Neo-liberalism (whatever that is), then what do you like? 

NoEnzLefttoSplit

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Posted: Dec 19, 2019 - 4:16pm

And since this is the economix thread.. here some charts to support where I am coming from:
 
1. Inequality (you'll have to hover over the bars to see the nations.. the embedding tool leaves the x axis out)
 
2. GDP
 
Notice the inverse correlation among the OECD 35? The richer countries have greater social equality.

Even after considering all the criticisms made of the Gini coefficient (primarily related to what it leaves out) I think the above data support the basic thesis summarized in this chart:
 
 
in other words, the best performing economies manage to marry social cohesion (through gasp, enforced tax transfers to fund the public sector) with a dynamic private sector.
 
Centrism!! it rocks my socks.
NoEnzLefttoSplit

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Posted: Dec 19, 2019 - 2:15pm

 Lazy8 wrote:

Shooting you would violate your rights.

I figured this would come up. I was trying to head off this digression with the statement you quoted, but I see we're here again. And once again I don't have time to write the book-length defense of the concept of rights that I adhere to, demonstrating that it is a reasoned position rather than a religious one. Regardless of the origins intellectual honesty should compel you to argue with the concept rather than the author or the path it took to the argument.
 
You really should find the time to write the book. You are good at this.
 
And yes, I didn't want to be forced down this road again either, but this discussion started with your claim that economists should merely tell politicians how economies work, free of any policy making, which, to me, given how inextricably entwined the public sector is in all modern economies, I found absurd, which led to a discussion on government intervention, which led to a discussion on collective vs. individual, which inexorably led to this repeat about the nature of rights...  guess it was inevitable.


You're free to believe what you like about that concept and me—see, you have that right. I'm mostly trying to prevent a redefinition of the concept to include obligations to get around the duty of justifying forcing random obligations on people.

There are all kinds of situations that the concept of rights doesn't address, but it doesn't need to. It forms a basis for the minimal set of things people aren't allowed to do to each other. That has a moral gravity that's irresistible, a temptation to identify anything you want as a right, and then insist that others provide it for you. You hint at recognizing that above, but it would be nice if that recognition were explicit.

If you want to impose a set of obligations on top of the obligation to respect the rights of others you need to justify that obligation. You need to justify it not only on ethical grounds but pragmatic: is this course effective? Is there some goal it accomplishes better than doing nothing? Does the effect justify the side-effects? With sweeping social plans and programs those questions get asked far too seldom and the answers ignored far too often.

 
Yes, sorry about the ad hominem bit, but your belief in the universality is unfortunately central to the entire argument for you are quite happy with the notion that your set of minimal rights is universal but that any extension beyond that minimal scope that I see, lets call it my set of rights, is merely a whim on my part, subjective and arbitrary.
 
1. So, as for my set of rights being a whim, subjective and arbitrary: You are quite right. I never denied that it wasn't. The problem is, yours is too and you remain stubbornly blind to the fact. So let's take your argument in favor of individual rights, not as statements of immutable fact, but as a plea for a better society, as suggested rules for making this a better place for all to live. On this metric they have mixed results. In many, many cases, they are brilliant and arguably the best moral construct humankind has come up with to date. I certainly do not deny that and am all in favor of a "legal system based on human rights".
However, like all good systems, they can sometimes become a little unhinged, unbalanced and result in an outcome that may not have been foreseen at the outset. To be more explicit (since you find me wanting in intellectual rigor) - the current sustained trend towards inequality in wealth is something I find deeply disturbing and has already led to the first signs of social discord.  (this is after all how this discussion started).
 
2. The second point is that the concept of rights is itself a product of a certain culture and a certain time and place. It ties in nicely with western expansionism, the rise in business and invasion of many "first nations" with hardly any qualms of any kind whatsoever ("after all we are liberating them"). To illustrate this, take the case of land sales in NZ in the first days of colonization. The Maori had no concept of individual land ownership. They even didn't really have a concept of collective land ownership. Rather the land was primary. It owned you. They referred to themselves as the people of the land "Tangata whenua". So when settlers turned up offering muskets in return for land, the misunderstanding (or misrepresentation in a legal sense) was perfect. Maori got muskets in return for settlers being on the land. The settlers then burnt the forest (trees are sacred beings to the Maori) put up fences and forced the Maori off the land.
Recently I mentioned the case of Nestle buying up rights to communal water wells in Africa. Maybe this is just anti-corporate apocryphal. But if there is some truth to it, I imagine the sale taking a similar course.
Long story short:  if you remove the primacy of the individual from your concept of rights or at least establish the co-primacy of the common alongside the rights of the individual, your system of rights suddenly looks radically different.
This is not a moral argument on my part, for there is no meta-foundation to choose between different moral regimes - it's just a suggestion as to how to make a more workable, harmonious, prosperous society. And, hey look, it's actually what we are doing at the moment anyway!  There's gotta be some reason for that.
 
So, in conclusion, my plea for a better society is to establish alongside individual rights, an acknowledgement that individual rights aren't worth a toss outside of a functioning society. That the health of society and an intact environment is in all of our own interests and that individuals have a duty to contribute towards this. I find your insistence on giving individual rights primacy over the society in which they exist a no-brainer. And yes, that is an argument based on reason.
 
 
 
Lazy8

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Location: The Gallatin Valley of Montana
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Posted: Dec 19, 2019 - 8:50am

NoEnzLefttoSplit wrote:
Always find it highly amusing how you borrow religious vernacular to talk about natural rights, yet, back in the day, you had no qualms about trashing religious believers over in the atheists thead. For someone as astute as you the hypocrisy is startling. And again, you are being disingenuous. The point is not that I don't "believe" in rights. I  fully support them as one of the best social constructs humankind as come up with, as I have repeatedly stated in the past. I just don't buy into your religious conviction concerning them.

I love that line from Bishop Tutu: When the white man came, we had the land and he had religion. He taught us how to pray and when we opened our eyes, we had religion - and he had the land.
(quoting from memory here)

Your religious fervour reminds me very much of the white man he was referring to. The liberal rights-based minimal or no-government society is likewise predicated on all of us adhering to the same beliefs for it to work. That you don't see this still astounds me to this day. If there is one constant to human history it is that we will find a way to disagree on just about anything. All of us having to have the same basic belief (in this case a distinct set of natural rights) before we even start discussing in the various public fora is just about the dumbest foundation for a stable society that I can think of.

So to correct the impression you were trying to make in the passage above. I have absolutely no problem with a legal system based on rights. My problem is that the libertarian movement does not go far enough. I am missing any reference to the tradition of "being my brother's keeper" or, to use  a word that has come back into vogue, "stewardship" of the environment. Society and the environment are common goods that a system based solely on individual rights fails to properly address. So shoot me.

Shooting you would violate your rights.

I figured this would come up. I was trying to head off this digression with the statement you quoted, but I see we're here again. And once again I don't have time to write the book-length defense of the concept of rights that I adhere to, demonstrating that it is a reasoned position rather than a religious one. Regardless of the origins intellectual honesty should compel you to argue with the concept rather than the author or the path it took to the argument.

You're free to believe what you like about that concept and me—see, you have that right. I'm mostly trying to prevent a redefinition of the concept to include obligations to get around the duty of justifying forcing random obligations on people.

There are all kinds of situations that the concept of rights doesn't address, but it doesn't need to. It forms a basis for the minimal set of things people aren't allowed to do to each other. That has a moral gravity that's irresistible, a temptation to identify anything you want as a right, and then insist that others provide it for you. You hint at recognizing that above, but it would be nice if that recognition were explicit.

If you want to impose a set of obligations on top of the obligation to respect the rights of others you need to justify that obligation. You need to justify it not only on ethical grounds but pragmatic: is this course effective? Is there some goal it accomplishes better than doing nothing? Does the effect justify the side-effects? With sweeping social plans and programs those questions get asked far too seldom and the answers ignored far too often.

To make an analogy to the world of medicine: setting a broken bone undoes an intervention in the body, restores it to a healthy state—a state that should be recognized as the default. Surgery or a drug may or may not. If you have a prescription to intervene in the body you should be able to justify it as outweighing the unintended consequences. Surgery starts with a wound, a defect in the body that wasn't there before. The result needs to be a greater good than the damage done by the knife. Drugs are carried to every part the body, not just the part that's ailing. Can the body tolerate it well enough to justify its use, and in either case does the patient want the treatment at all? You shouldn't get to drag people in off the street and perform surgery on them.

Speaking of shooting people...you are advocating policies that have to be imposed by threat of force. That threat (and the inevitable reality of the threatened action) needs to be justified, Make your case. Justify it not just to the people who want free houses, but to the person whose house will be seized when he can't pay the taxes to provide them. Justify shooting him if he won't leave that house.
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