Kilroy Was Here
June 15, 2004
The Vote Market
Peter Levine explores the ideas of pragmatic libertarianism:

1. I’m open to pragmatic but not philosophical libertarianism: If you come at me with a coherent and radical version of libertarianism, I will resist it. In contrast to libertarians, I believe that human beings may make claims on others for economic support; that some of these claims are morally obligatory; and that governments may enforce such claims through taxing and spending. I don’t see a tax as an immoral “taking” of sacrosanct private property. This is only one place where I part company with abstract libertarian theory.

However, libertarians have also developed a whole set of pragmatic arguments to accompany their core philosophical beliefs. They say that governments tend to fail at their own explicit purposes, are often captured by special interests, and promote upward economic redistribution; and that markets work better. Libertarians often assert that these arguments must apply in all (or almost all) circumstances. They rely on fundamental theoretical reasons that derive from economics, not philosophy—for example, the idea that markets efficiently deliver what everyone demands. I think, in partial contrast, that market solutions often work in particular domains and are worth testing. In practice, this means that I am open to, and interested in, libertarian arguments that take the form, “A market will solve problem x” (where x is something like poverty, crime, or environmental degradation). Pure philosophical libertarianism, however, says, “We shouldn’t structure the ground rules of society in order to solve problems of this type; we should simply respect private individual liberty.” I disagree with this formulation, but that doesn’t prevent me from learning practical lessons from libertarianism

One way I think that 'pragmatic libertarianism' can acutallyoccur in our society is to have two different markets provide checks and balances to each other: the market of dollars vs. the market of votes.

The market of dollars can be more efficient, but can suffer from abuse and resentment.

The market of votes, in the form of representative democracy, can use a market-based system to check these abuses.

At some point, the market of dollars ceases to exchange goods and services and starts to exchange power-especially when wealth inequality grows past a certain point. At this point, the dollar market may actually limit liberty.

The market of votes can allow us to check these abuses and to force the market out of stable strategies that have unacceptable consequences.

June 14, 2004
Left Behind and Intelligent Design
Kevin Drum posts about the Left Behind series and its reflection on the urban/rural divde. I can only relate too well.

Whenever I (a left-coast liberal atheist) vist my minister father, born-again step-mother, and religious school attending half-brother in Indiana, I'm often surprised at the differences.

Not only does my half-brother have a bookshelf devoted to Left Behind and Left Behind Jr books, my step-mother is constantly raving on me about Intelligent Design and how evolution is the work of the devil.

"Why do all you evolutionists want to disprove the existence of God?" she cries.

Where'd she get that crazy notion?

What the *&%^ is the matter with Kansas?
I heard an interesting interview on Terry Gross last Thursday with Thomas Frank on his book What's the Matter with Kansas?

One of the interesting points Frank made on the show was the inherent contradictions inside of the Republican party.

For one, the social conservatives in the Republican party rage against the downfall of the American culture, with all those movies, music, magazines, etc. But the big business conservatives in the Republican party are doing everything they can to enable big business to continue to sell the very things the social conservatives rage against.

Another point he made was how the term liberal has devolved into a kind of curse word. A funny story he told: He's jaywalking across a street to get to a store. A car drives buy, honks, and the driver leans out the window and yells, "Get out of the street, you damn liberal!"

How did we get to this point?

The Republican party is large and contains multitudes.
June 13, 2004
There's equal and then there's equal
Over in the trenches of the comments at Matt Yglesias and Political Animal, the different camps of the tax war fight over the field of Equality.

I can think of at least three ways to have a tax code applied equally.

1. Everyone pays the exact same amount. If the government needs $3 trillion to operate this year and their are 300 million folks in America, each person pays $10,000 dollars no matter what. It's certainly equal. Not sure about fair.

2. Everyone pays the exact same percentage. If the government needs $3 trillion to operate this year, and we need 25% of everyone's income to pay for it, then everyone pays 25%. Again, it's equal in a way, but I'm sure if you have to pay $5000 out of your $20,000 income, you're going to have to start choosing between lunch and dinner.

3. Everyone taxes have equal effect on their income. This is where progressive tax rates come in. Now, of course, taxing people so that it has an equal effect is a much harder puzzle to solve, but also, the most just. And should we choose simplicity over justice just for the convenience of it? Or should we wrestle with our tax system until we can squeeze every last ounce of justice out of it?

I think we should gear up and grapple.

June 12, 2004
Her Duchess, Paris of Hilton
Over at Matthew Yglesias's website, Matt bangs his head against the estate tax.

I'll dent my noggin as well and add these two points to the debate.

Point Numero Uno: Given that the government must be funded through some sort of taxes, wealthy people should favor estate taxes over all other types. Why? Simply because they don't suffer the consequences of those taxes.

In other words, you're rich. You need to shoulder some burden of the guvmint. When do you want that money taken away from you? While you're still alive and could use it on fuel for your Gulfwing or that Picasso that's so necessary to complete your bedroom design? Or after you've passed unto the great beyond and have no need for it?

I vote for option 2.

(If you're trying to argue that the wealthy shouldn't be taxed in either case, go away! You're not honestly facing the fact that some level of government must be funded.)

2. Estate taxes have a social purpose. The last thing we need in this country is a de facto aristocracy. Especially a de facto aristocracy of Paris Hiltons!

All you in favor of estate taxes, go check out William Gates, Sr. view on


June 11, 2004
Let Them Believe in Santa Claus....
In Reason, today, Cathy Young comments on the pursuit of secularists to modify the seal of the Los Angeles.

My post is a great example of blogging on two hands.

One the one hand, I agree with Cathy completely. We secularists and atheists should not "moon the giant" with these small, largely ineffective pursuits at secularist purity. Like it or not, we're the minority in this country, and we should pick our battles wisely.

On the other hand, I don't think that this article should take away that fact that religious extremists are constantly and consistently pushing their agenda of turning our nation into a Christian nation through the implicit force inherent in the our federal and state laws. We should never forget that this tendency of a radical minority poses a much much greater threat to our democracy and freedom than the small minded attempts of a few to over-vigilant in the separation of church and state.

June 09, 2004
The Markets,Governments, and Local Optima
One problem with natural selection is local optima. That is, nautural selection is all about small improvements, and one can think about small improvements as a rule where the next step must always be better than the previous one. Unfortunately, if one starts out climbing a small hill, one can never go down into the valley to get to the large mountain.

The markets have similar problems, without a large inflow of capital, a market-driven entity cannot easily move from more profitable processes and products to less profitable ones without being hurt by more short-termed minded competition.

This could be where the role of government helps out. Many programs that the government has started has avoided this type of problem, such as the GI Bill, etc. Government should provide some resources to help us escape from local optima.

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