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Old April 7, 2010, 12:09 PM   #1
Bartholomew Roberts
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No such thing as a Golden Age of Lost Liberty

Over at Reason.com, David Boaz has an interesting article where he argues that overall, our government is becoming more libertarian, not less and points out some different perspectives on the issue.

He makes the point that if you are are a non-white, non-male, non-property owning person, your rights have almost certainly improved over the past two centuries. He points out that the traditional libertarian arguments tend to focus on freedoms that were only actually enjoyed by a segment of our society and points out that what you may see as a "return to lost days of freedom" may have a very different historical significance for those who were not male, white, and property owners and do not consider those people their ancestors.

I thought the article had two great points that are worth considering from the perspective of any civil rights advocacy:

1. What seems like halcyon days to you; may not seem like it to your audience due to the different experiences of your ancestors. If you are going to wander down the historical road to make your point, this is an important factor to keep in mind.

2. Libertarians talk a lot about "small" government and limited government; but size and scope of government do not always directly equate to its power or intrusiveness. A police department of 8 people enforcing laws against theft and robbery is more libertarian than a police department of 4 people enforcing laws restricting speech, limiting freedom of association, or putting up hurdles to your Second Amendment rights. Thinking about the actual desired effect frees us up from the Herculean task of trying to abolish a government agency and lets us think of other ways to achieve the goal of a less intrusive government.
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Old April 7, 2010, 12:48 PM   #2
zukiphile
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The article is a fairly egregious strawman. It isn't reasonable to suppose that when Tryrrell professes admiration for 18th century america, he really means he wants to be a slave owner.

Favoring a federal government more narrow in scope is neither a profession of libertarian utopianism nor an unreflective acceptance of the many problems, primarily social, that existed alongside that style of government.

Part of the author's error involves a failure to distinguish between the seemingly oppressive effect of a traditional largely agrarian society, and a modern legal structure in which the federal government in principle reserves the right to determine how much you can make. (This is a reference to an income tax case in which Internal Revenue decided that a CEO's salary was excessive and that the excessive portion should be taxed as a gift, since it could not be legitimate compensation.)

Where the author makes a fine point is to note that the virtues of widespread liberty are largely the liberties afforded white males. For a significant part of that history you could include the landowning test as well. However, the expansions of liberty have been to expand the rights of that class to others.

Where people complain about a federal government that grows larger at the expense of its citizens, and appropriates for itself really enormous amounts of individual productivity, they complain about stolen labor, one of the greivences of slaves and indentured servants. By this measure, I am less free in a very practical way than americans one century ago.

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Thinking about the actual desired effect frees us up from the Herculean task of trying to abolish a government agency and lets us think of other ways to achieve the goal of a less intrusive government.
I do not concur.

Working to limit the role and growth of a government agency is a losing proposition. The people who benefit from the agency are likely to be a more concentrated and persistent group than those who wish to limit the agency according to some nebulous principle. As people realise the benefits they receive from the agency, their practical side can leave them equally deaf to prudential and principled argument about what they receive, and the effect of trimming the particular agency is likely to be more severe than the general benefit of a reduced federal bureaucracy. Each cut appears to be a net detriment to those most interested. See Social Security.

The last agency I recall anyone trying to abolish was Education. I recall people talking about abolition of IRS, but since they do something necessary, that never had an aura of the possible. The idea is to remove the tumor rather than manage it.

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A police department of 8 people enforcing laws against theft and robbery is more libertarian than a police department of 4 people enforcing laws restricting speech, limiting freedom of association, or putting up hurdles to your Second Amendment rights.
I suppose that depends on whether you are an orator or a thief.
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Old April 7, 2010, 01:21 PM   #3
Bartholomew Roberts
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Quote:
It isn't reasonable to suppose that when Tryrrell professes admiration for 18th century america, he really means he wants to be a slave owner.
I didn't get the impression the author really thought Tryrrel wanted to be a slave owner; rather he was just emphasizing his point that the freedoms Tryrrel wished for were denied to many people of that time as well.

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Where people complain about a federal government that grows larger at the expense of its citizens, and appropriates for itself really enormous amounts of individual productivity, they complain about stolen labor, one of the greivences of slaves and indentured servants. By this measure, I am less free in a very practical way than americans one century ago.
I guess it depends on which American you would be one century ago, as well as to what extent local governments were doing things that the federal government is now villified for.

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The idea is to remove the tumor rather than manage it.
My point was that abolishing federal agencies has had zero success. At best, an agency is swallowed whole by another agency and the bureaucratic inertia increases. Concentrating on what government has the power to do seems to me to be a better focus. A useless government agency employing 1,000 people that does nothing of value irritates me; but not nearly so much as a useless government agency employing 1,000 people that interjects itself into my daily life AND also takes money from my pocket to do it.

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I suppose that depends on whether you are an orator or a thief.
Not really. At least I don't recall any libertarian arguments that you should be able to redistribute private property to yourself unilaterally and at will
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Old April 7, 2010, 01:36 PM   #4
zukiphile
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Quote:
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Where people complain about a federal government that grows larger at the expense of its citizens, and appropriates for itself really enormous amounts of individual productivity, they complain about stolen labor, one of the greivences of slaves and indentured servants. By this measure, I am less free in a very practical way than americans one century ago.
I guess it depends on which American you would be one century ago, as well as to what extent local governments were doing things that the federal government is now villified for.
I don't think that is true if the measure is the proportion of your own industry you were permitted to retain.

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I suppose that depends on whether you are an orator or a thief.
Not really.
I couldn't find the tongue-in-cheek emoticon.

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The idea is to remove the tumor rather than manage it.
My point was that abolishing federal agencies has had zero success.
Absolutely correct*, however I don't think any idea enjoys success until it does.

*I don't know whether you would count the regulatory regimen under the NRA (National Recovery Act) stricken by the Sup Ct. It had a very detailed price and wage control scheme that I don't believe has been replicated since. But your core point that abolitionism trades the possibility of marginal success for an all or nothing approach is undeniable.

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A useless government agency employing 1,000 people that does nothing of value irritates me; but not nearly so much as a useless government agency employing 1,000 people that interjects itself into my daily life AND also takes money from my pocket to do it.
I do agree. I am not an advocate of efficiency in government if the end toward which that efficiency is put is itself pernicious.
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