12/9/13

Re: Left-Libertarian-ist Manifesto

12/9/13
Scott Alexander has an interesting post up at Slate Star Codex, A Something Sort Of Like Left-Libertarianism-ist Manifesto, which is good. And well, bad.

Besides the many compliments and many complaints about it I could articulate here, I'll just include a few (because lazy).

First and foremost, I'm very happy to see people much smarter than I, embrace libertarianism (to various extents), and use their not-insignificant pedestals to extol the virtues of said government philosophy. No two libertarians will pass the other's litmus test, so we are necessarily an inclusive--however critical--group. So, thank you Scott, for writing this and other articles like this.

But you're worse than HitlerTM for failing to see the shortcomings of democracy, shortcomings virtually every political junkie of every stripe complains about, especially libertarians.

Your line of reasoning concerning affirmative action for Martians for example, starts out well, but then you miss somewhat obvious potential problems:
Modern affirmative action says that given the choice between a Martian or an equally qualified Earthling, one must hire the Martian. One big obvious problem here is that “equally qualified” is a matter of opinion. It may be that a boss is prejudiced against Martians, and so tells an excellent Martian candidate that ve is underqualified for the position – the Martian may never know. Or a Martian who was genuinely underqualified may paranoidly believe ve was denied out of prejudice and start a costly lawsuit.

There are other problems as well. Some jobs may have legitimate reasons not to hire Martians – maybe Martians make lousy pilots because their single lidless eye gives them terrible depth perception. Certainly a Martian actor is unqualified to play Abraham Lincoln in a historical biopic. One could offer to let these jobs apply for exemptions, but this means a costly bureaucratic process, and is likely to end with large companies with good lawyers obtaining the exemptions, small companies with poor lawyers not obtaining the exemptions, and no concern about fairness to Martians in any case.

In the worst possible situation, a non-prejudiced boss may decide not to hire Martians because it would be harder to reprimand or dismiss a Martian when they could threaten to sue the company or start a viral Tumblr post accusing the company of speciesism.

Compare a market-informed solution: run a bunch of controlled studies in which bosses get identical Earthling and Martian resumes, find out exactly how strong the prejudice against Martians is, then levy an appropriate tax on hiring Earthlings (or give a subsidy for hiring Martians). Maybe hiring Earthlings costs 5% extra, which is funnelled into scholarships for impoverished Martian larvae. . . .

If ten years later the social scientists do some studies and find that companies are still more likely to accept Earthling resumes over identical Martian resumes, they can raise the tax until that’s no longer the case. If they find that companies are more likely to accept Martian resumes now, then prejudice has decreased and the tax can decrease as well.

I think everyone has a lot to like about this proposal.
Assuming this tax is successfully implemented and collected, you've just created another incentive for the Martians to vote for this particular (however just) form of wealth redistribution. Affirmative action doesn't take place in a political vacuum. Whole constituencies are affected by this. Unless you plan to deny voting rights to Martians and/or deny Martians from holding office (and possibly Martian sympathizers), identity poltics, quid pro quos, the new status quo and the voice of its beneficiaries haven't magically disappeared.

You might be able to increase the tax, if the non-Martians aren't too vocal about it. But the only way you will realistically and democratically decrease or eliminate the tax is if the Martians, who originally were so oppressed as to require this policy, have either transcended their want of wealth, or more likely have been politically oppressed, instead of economically. It's not as if weaning is a smooth process, especially when it involves the government and thousands, if not millions of voters.

This is why we have revolutions, because it's hard to un-ratchet government, short of drastic measures (although I concede the U.S. has had a much easier time of un-ratcheting than most, but it's still a huge problem).


That's the gist of my complaint. You're aknowledging a lot of the problems with progressive policies, which is good, but then you completely omit (or are ignorant of) the institutional (congressional, executive & bureaucratic, sometimes judicial) and environmental (democracy, culture) problems that contribute to the formation and continuance of bad policies.*

Mabye I shouldn't complain. I mean, I hate democracy but I'm not to the point where I'm willing to throw it out. The proto-conservative Burke had a point when he cautioned against replacing the Old with the New, when at least the Old didn't kill everybody. Who knows what the New will bring. But I'm getting off point.

The idea of taxing rather than banning is not an un-libertarian idea, but it is unoriginal and (for libertarians) rarely the go-to proposal. I very much like where Scott starts and following his thought processes, but in the end I'm left very disappointed. He seems to be very utilitarian/technocratic oriented so long as the goal of caring for the less-fortunate is kept conspicuously on high priority. I'm all about helping the less fortunate, but does every policy have to be about the poor? Does it always have to include a tax? More often than not, it seems it does. Which brings me back to one of my central annoyances with lefty solutions: they are boring and incessantly unoriginal.

At least the neoreactionaries are interesting, even if unoriginal.

*Maybe Scott has discussed this in his anti-neoreactionary peice (which I haven't read yet), but why overlook the significant difficulties produced by democracy here? Is it because libertarianism kind of assumes democracy? Why is nobody talking about significant reform of democracy?

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